In the first reported case of its kind in Croatia, three museums have restored several pieces of art stolen from a Jewish businessman during the Holocaust to his grandson, according to a report Friday.
The move marks the end of a 70-year struggle by the descendants of Dane Reichsmann, who was a wealthy owner of a department store in the country’s capital Zagreb before the Nazi-led genocide and was deported and murdered at Auschwitz along with his wife.
“This seems almost beyond belief,” Andy Reichsman, Dane’s grandson, and inheritor of the looted works told The New York Times. “I thought that our chances would be one in a million. They never had any interest in giving anything back to Jews.”
The artworks returned include paintings by André Derain, “Still Life With a Bottle,” and Maurice de Vlaminick’s “Landscape by the Water,” which were held by the National Museum of Modern Art, and lithographs from the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Pierre Bonnard.
A bronze plaque, copper tray, and bowl from the Zagreb Museum of Arts and Crafts was also restored. However, 19 additional pieces from the institution are still being pursued by Reichsman’s lawyer.
The pieces were looted by the ruling Croatian fascist group, the Ustaše.
Reichsman’s aunt Danica Scodoba and father Franz Reichsman fled Europe before the outbreak of World War II to London and the United States, respectively (Franz dropped the extra N from his family name “Reichsmann” when he immigrated).
Reichsman took up the struggle of his aunt, who tried for half a century to reclaim the property. He recalled that “she traveled to Zagreb every summer and met with gallery directors, government officials and anyone she felt could help her in her attempts to retrieve the art.”
Scodoba died more than two decades ago and was unable to witness a Zagreb Municipal Court ruling in December 2020 that determined the pieces legally belonged to her.
A subsequent decision in 2021 affirmed her nephew as her heir.
Reichsman’s Croatian laywer, Monja Matic, said she valued her client’s patience after she had worked on the case for some 20 years.
“This is a positive step in dealing with outstanding Holocaust Era restitution issues in Croatia,” said Gideon Taylor, President of the World Jewish Restitution Organization.
The National Museum of Modern Art said in a Facebook statement it was “working intensively on researching provenance” of artworks suspected of being looted during the war.
The institution regretted that the resolution took as long as it did.
Croatia rebuffed restitution claims by descendants of Holocaust victims until last year when its government and the World Jewish Restitution Organization published a joint report detailing the looting of art by the fascist regime. Stolen property was subsequently seized and nationalized by the country’s communist government.
The Nazi-allied Ustaše regime, which ran the Independent State of Croatia from 1941 to 1945, persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians.