An American heir to a former Jewish art gallery partnership in the Netherlands seeks restitution for the forced sales of 143 valuable paintings to the Nazis and their agents during World War II, according to a new lawsuit filed by the Berg & Androphy and E. Paul Gibson P.C. law firms.
South Carolina resident Bruce Berg, a grandson of the late Benjamin Katz and a great-nephew of the late Nathan Katz, brothers and partners in the Firma D. Katz partnership, alleges that 143 paintings are currently in the wrongful possession of the Dutch government and a number of private and public museums in the Netherlands, according to the lawsuit.
The case is “Bruce Berg v. Kingdom of The Netherlands, et al,” Case No. 2:18-cv-3123-BHH in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina, Charleston Division. Joel M. Androphy and Rebecca L. Gibson, of Berg & Androphy, along with E. Paul Gibson and Allison Leard, of E. Paul Gibson P.C., represent Mr. Berg.
Among the paintings in dispute are valuable works by Dutch “Old Masters” such as Ferdinand Bol, Pieter Claesz, Jan Steen, and the school of Rembrandt. The paintings were sold or traded under duress by Firma D. Katz to representatives of the Nazi regime between mid-1940 and 1942, during the occupation of the Netherlands, according to the lawsuit.
Joel Androphy, of Berg & Androphy, said, “The paintings were destined for Adolf Hitler’s future ‘Führermuseum’ in Linz, Austria, or for the massive art collection of Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering. Goering himself even paid a terrifying visit to Firma D. Katz, accompanied by armed guards, to inspect and select the paintings. A considerable portion of the money paid for the art by Hitler, Goering and their agents was used by the Katz family to keep their relatives and families from being transported to concentration and death camps, and to facilitate the Katz family’s escape from the occupied Netherlands.”
The Katz brothers learned of the wholesale persecution of Jews in Germany and countries occupied by the Third Reich through their art dealer contacts in other countries—including other Jews, the lawsuit asserts. Once the Netherlands was invaded and occupied in May of 1940, the Katz brothers feared deportation to concentration camps, reprisal, or wholesale confiscation of the gallery’s artworks if they did not comply with the wishes of Nazi agents. Nazi agents deceptively cloaked the forced sales in the appearance of legality, avoiding the wholesale looting carried out in other occupied countries.
Androphy said, “The Dutch government and museum defendants have known for decades that the paintings claimed do not belong to them. Yet, the Dutch Restitution Committee largely denied two restitution claims filed by a group of Firma D. Katz heirs, which sought the currently claimed paintings as well as other artworks. The Restitution Committee’s denial relied on arbitrary considerations with no basis in law and ignored evidence of Firma D. Katz’s ownership of the paintings at issue. Only one painting was ultimately restituted to the Katz heirs.”
The claimed paintings were returned to the Netherlands after World War II by the U.S. military for restitution to their original owners, according to the lawsuit.
Rebecca L. Gibson, of Berg & Androphy, said, “The U.S. expected the Netherlands to implement just and fair restitution procedures and return the paintings to their original owners. The Netherlands’ restitution process, however, has a troubled history to say the least. The Netherlands’ original procedure demanded payment to the Dutch government for all paintings sold to Nazis – even though the forced sales were illegal and the Dutch received no prior compensation.”
According to the lawsuit, despite the undisputable historical facts of duress facing Dutch Jews during the occupation, the Restitution Committee relied on a faulty notion that sales by Jewish art dealers “in principle constituted ordinary sales” because the art trade’s objective is to sell art. The Committee ignored the weight of history and evidence of duress endured by the Katz brothers. After the Committee’s arbitrary denial of the heirs’ claim for restitution, Mr. Berg was left with no choice but to pursue the paintings in United States court, the lawsuit asserts.
Attorney Contact: Joel Androphy, Berg & Androphy, Houston 713.529.5622.
Media Contact: Erin Powers, Powers MediaWorks LLC, for Berg & Androphy, [email protected], 281.703.6000.
SOURCE Berg & Androphy