NY’s Jewish Museum Presents Exhibit of Nazi Looted Art; Heartbreaking Stories Behind Works - The Jewish Voice
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Monday, February 6, 2023

NY’s Jewish Museum Presents Exhibit of Nazi Looted Art; Heartbreaking Stories Behind Works

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By:  Hellen Zaboulani

A new exhibit at the Jewish Museum, takes a look into the heartbreaking stories behind works of art looted during World War II and the Holocaust.  The exhibit, which will run through Jan. 9, is entitled “Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art” and will feature art by Paul Klee, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall as well as many other artists.  “We wanted to do the show because [restitution] continues to be such an important topic,” said co-curator Darsie Alexander. “So many of the collectors who lost their collections — and those who lost their lives — were Jewish.”

The Fifth Avenue museum, which was first founded in 1904, now has on display 53 looted works of art, 80 Jewish ceremonial objects and a variety of photos and archival documents.  It is only a tiny segment of all the art that was looted across the world when the Nazi forces unleashed their fury on the world, murdering millions of innocent people, and claiming their possessions.  Many times the art was luckier than its owners.  The pieces made their way somehow across national borders, through networks of collectors, looters, and restitution organizations.  “There is no accounting for how much was lost and destroyed,” said co-curator Sam Sackeroff, noting that at just one Ally-operated collecting point in Munich, Germany after the war over a million objects were processed. “It adds up to the millions and millions.”

As reported by the NY Post, one piece on display at the exhibit is an abstract oil painting by Freundlich, a Polish-born Jewish artist.   It was one of the few works by the artist to have survived, as it was deemed “degenerate art” which the Nazis sought to destroy.  Freundlich and his wife hid in a tiny town from 1940 to 1943, but he was found and deported to the Lublin-Majdanek concentration camp in Poland. He was killed on his first day there in 1943 at age 64.  The piece, “The Unity of Life and Death” is  on display, on loan from MoMA.

Another piece on display is “Nudes in a Landscape” created by Max Pechstein in 1912.  The painting had belonged to a German-Jewish banker and avid art collector named Hugo Simon. It was believed to be looted by the Nazis from the owner’s Paris apartment. It was restituted to Simon’s heir in July 2021 in France.

“The Nazis were trying to destroy Jewish culture,” said Alexander.  “They were not successful. The notion of recovery — how these things were saved, not just how they were looted — is a great story.”


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