Bavaria’s regional parliament eased the return of looted art to the heirs of victims of the Nazis by eliminating a rule requiring the state government to be compensated for restitutions.
The restriction was lifted after the heirs of Valerie Heissfeld, a Jewish widow living in Vienna in 1938, laid claim to a watercolor in Munich’s Staatliche Graphische Sammlung. The painting, by Rudolf von Alt, was looted by the Nazis after Heissfeld fled Vienna. Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler’s private secretary, acquired it and kept it in Obersalzberg.
The painting was among the belongings of Nazi officials and institutions transferred to Bavaria after the war. Though it accepted the Heissfeld claim as valid, the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung blocked the painting’s return because it could not refund its value to the state. A constitutional requirement that the state must be compensated for any lost assets was amended in the budget law, passed late yesterday.
“This is a positive and constructive step,” said Anne Webber, co-chair of the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which tracked down the watercolor and filed the claim on behalf of the heirs. “We hope that where other claims are successful, returns can now happen more quickly.”
Heissfeld fled Nazi-annexed Austria for Brno in 1939. After the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, she was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where she was murdered in 1942. Her daughter Lotte managed to escape Czechoslovakia two weeks before the invasion.
Heissfeld had tried to take the painting, called “Old North Station, Vienna,” when she fled Austria but was prevented from doing so under an export ban. It was auctioned after she fled, along with three other von Alt watercolors belonging to Heissfeld. Bormann acquired it from a dealer in Munich.
During World War II, it was hidden in an Austrian salt mine for safekeeping and then returned to Bavaria after the war. It is currently valued at 20,000 euros ($28,500).