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Restitution process in Germany shaken by private foundation’s refusal to compensate heirs

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

In 2016, the Limbach Commission, set up by the German government to mediate restitution disputes, recommended the restitution of a precious antique violin. It established that the violin had either been seized by the Nazis or sold under duress by Jewish music supplies dealer Felix Hildesheimer, as he fled persecution in 1939.

A violin. Photo: LaPorte via Pixabay

However, the current owner of the violin, the Franz Hofmann and Sophie Hagemann Foundation, has refused to return the instrument or pay compensation and cast doubt on the Commission’s findings. In January, this finally pushed the Limbach Commission to make a statement criticizing the Foundation’s failure to comply with its recommendation.

This tension, reported widely across the world, threatens to undermine Germany’s restitution process which has so far relied on mutual agreement and implementation of recommendations rather than any legal powers of enforcement.

However, lawmakers in Germany have listened; a law to better facilitate the restitution of Nazi-looted artworks from private foundations was approved by Merkel’s cabinet on 4th February, as Catherine Hickley reports for the Art Newspaper.

Meanwhile, the Commission was working on another recommendation, made on 8th February. It urged the City of Cologne to return a painting by Egon Schiele, ‘Kauernder weiblicher Akt’ to the estate of Jewish dentist Heinrich Rieger, from whom the painting was taken in a forced sale in 1938.

This has been readily accepted by the City of Cologne, who will make arrangements for the painting’s return.


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