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TEL AVIV. Historians believe that about one-fifth of the art works in Europe
were looted by the Nazis; many of them can be found today in major museums
and private collections. Now, the original owners and their heirs are
beginning to reclaim their property

Fri., August 13, 2004 Av 26, 5764

Stolen treasure

By David Rapp <mailto:drapp@haaretz.co.il>

Last Update: 12/08/2004 21:31

Historians believe that about one-fifth of the art works in Europe were
looted by the Nazis; many of them can be found today in major museums and
private collections. Now, the original owners and their heirs are beginning
to reclaim their property

In 1943, a young woman stood on the railway platform in Florence. She waited
two whole days for her parents, the Gutmanns, from the Netherlands,
second-generation Christian converts. The couple knew that under the Nazi
occupation their lives were in danger and planned to leave their homeland
and join their daughter, Lili, who had moved to Italy in 1938.

They had the necessary papers for leaving the Netherlands, but then two SS
men appeared at their door. The Gutmanns were put on a train that took them
to an interrogation at the Theresienstadt camp in Czechoslovakia. They were
questioned about their art collection, among other things. A short time
later, the two were murdered. Their art collection was confiscated. Bernard,
Lili's brother, escaped from Holland and survived.

About two years ago, Lili Gutmann returned to her country of birth,
accompanied by Simon and Nick Goodman, the sons of Bernard, who died in
1994. Gutmann, a woman in her eighties, went with them to a large warehouse
in Rijswijk, not far from The Hague. In the warehouse, 233 items awaited
her: paintings, embroidered rugs and silver utensils - all belonging to her
parents. That was only a small part of the vast amount of property looted by
the Nazis. It had been transferred to the Dutch government at the end of
World War II, with a view to returning it to its owners. But in Holland, as
in most European countries, almost nothing was done for decades.

Historians believe that during the 12 years of the German Reich, about
one-fifth of the art works in Europe were looted by the Nazis. Even now,
almost 60 years after the end of World War II, many of these works are
collecting dust in warehouses, gracing private collections, or being
exhibited in respectable museums the world over.

A combination of inactivity, neglect and lack of information, as well as
many transactions carried out in good faith, gave rise to a situation where
thousands of masterworks now have at least two owners: Those who owned them
until the Nazi era, and those who bought or received them after the end of
World War II. Both are legal owners, until proved otherwise.

During the past decade - as a result of the fall of Communism, the opening
of archives in the West and increasing public pressure - the owners, today
very elderly people, or their heirs, are beginning to receive information
about the vestiges of their cultural heritage, and are starting to take
action. Some are turning to the courts, while others are forming pressure
groups that are working to change the law in various countries so that they
can claim what is rightfully theirs.

Israel is focusing on studying the material (which is already old) and on
preaching to the Europeans. There is nobody to lead the battle to return the
works to their owners. Even where disclosing information is concerned - for
example, on works that were transferred to museums in Israel from the assets
of those who disappeared after the war - little has been done.

Lili Gutmann identified every item in the warehouse in Rijswijk, but the
most important work in the Gutmanns' collection - a pastel drawing by Edgar
Degas, "Landscape with Smokestacks" - was not there.

The picture never reached the Dutch government - the Gutmanns sent it to
friends in France after the German occupation of Holland in 1940, and then
it disappeared. Lili's brother Bernard dedicated his entire life to a search
for this work, and died without finding it. His sons, who live in Los
Angeles, started to search for the drawing after their father's death. In
1996 they found a photo of it in a catalogue, with the name of the buyer
next to it: Daniel Searle, a Chicago collector, had bought it in 1987 from a
gallery in the United States for about $850,000. Searle, who bought the
painting legally, refused to consider the claim that it was stolen property.
The brothers decided to take legal action, and Anne Weber, who directs
documentary films, asked to document their steps.

Weber accompanied Lili Gutmann to her childhood home in the town of
Heemstede, Holland. She interviewed Gutmann's nephews as well as Searle, and
conducted research that became increasingly thorough over a two-year period.
In an interview with Britain's Daily Telegraph about a year and a half ago,
Weber estimated that Searle and the Gutmann brothers had spent about $1
million on legal proceedings in the United States.

When she completed the film in 1998, and before it was broadcast on
Britain's Channel 4, Weber sent a copy to each of the parties, and Searle
called her. He had seen the film, was very moved, and decided that he had to
meet with the brothers. Perhaps his decision was preceded by a conversation
with his lawyer, who may have encouraged him to reach a compromise. Whatever
the case, the parties met and reached a financial agreement and a
compromise, according to which the names of the original owners would be
written alongside the painting, which is on display in the Chicago Institute
of Art.

Weber had found her calling. In 1999, along with several colleagues, she
established the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (ECLA), a nonprofit
organization involved in returning works of art looted by the Nazis to their
owners. Only six people work in the organization's London offices, but they
have nevertheless succeeded thus far in handling hundreds of complicated
requests from all over the world, including quite a number from Israel.
Today the ECLA is the most important international organization in the

In Israel there is very little involvement in the struggle to help Holocaust
survivors locate works of art that belonged to their families, or to lead a
public battle on the issue. The Claims Conference in Israel says that at the
moment they are not active in this area. Yoram Dori, spokesman for the World
Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), the umbrella group for 11
international organizations that are working on the issue (including the
Claims Conference), says that "the emphasis in WJRO activity for returning
works of art is not to receive compensation, but to carry out historical
justice." Dori says that WJRO has been busy for five years mainly with
gathering information. "What is really important to us is that the real
owners of the works be acknowledged," he says. "The act of removing
paintings from museums such as the Louvre, for instance, is not a simple

The Czechs give up the Feldmann Collection

As opposed to WJRO, ECLA's activity has had tangible results. Weber, who
serves as co-chair of the organization alongside David Lewis, says that to
date ECLA has succeeded in returning about 400 works of art to their owners,
some of them Israeli. "We conduct negotiations with museums and collectors,"
she said this week in a phone interview, "and occasionally with official
representatives of the countries themselves, as in the case of the prolonged
discussions with Holland on behalf of the Gutmanns. So far we haven't been
forced to turn to the courts."

In March 2004, ECLA managed to reach an agreement for the return of a
collection of drawings to the Israeli heirs of attorney Arthur Feldmann of
Czechoslovakia, who was an enthusiastic art collector. Although in 1934 he
sold part of his collection, including drawings by artists such as
Rembrandt, Titian and Rubens, he immediately began to expand it once again.
When it was confiscated by the Nazis in 1939, the collection included over
700 drawings. Feldmann and his wife perished in the Holocaust, but their two
sons survived, and their children live in Israel.

In 1960 they discovered that part of their grandfather's collection of
drawings was on exhibit in the Moravian Gallery in the city of Brno in
Czechoslovakia. In the mid-1990s, when it became possible, their
representative turned to the courts in the Czech Republic, demanding that
the works be returned to them. The lawsuit was rejected, on the pretext that
the expiration date for submitting such claims was 1948. A new law passed in
the Czech Republic in 2000 enabled Feldmann's heirs to take action once
again. This time they didn't turn to the courts, but to ECLA, which
conducted negotiations with the management of the gallery in Brno and with
representatives of the Czech government for two years. In March 2004, the
representatives of the parties published a notice to the effect that 150
drawings now in the gallery in Brno would be returned to Feldmanns' heirs in

The gallery directors in Brno said at the time that they were offering to
buy the five most important works in the collection for $160,000. Anne Weber
informed them on behalf of the family, which preferred not to reveal its
identity, that it would consider the proposal. The only thing that clouded
the agreement was the announcement that now the Czech export laws would have
to be examined, in order to decide how it will be possible to take the many
works out of the country.

Many of those who claim ownership of works of art that were taken from them
or from their relatives emphasize that they are not motivated by money. But
even if questions of justice and ethics are the main thing, the issue does
involve a great deal of money. Among the hundreds of thousands of works of
art looted by the Nazis, a small number were confiscated and were not
allowed to be displayed, after being defined as "degenerate art."

Most of the looted works were transferred to the private collections of
Hitler and senior officials of the Third Reich, or were designated for the
realization of the Fuehrer's great dream - the establishment of a
museum-city in Linz, Austria, which would put the museums of Vienna and
other world museums in the shade. And what better way to compete with the
great art collections than to confiscate them and integrate them into the
new collection?

Hitler was a frustrated artist, and those who didn't want him in the Academy
of Art in Vienna got him as a curator, in the context of the Anschluss of
1938. At the time, Hitler initiated a program called the Linz Special
Mission, which was classified "top secret." The mission - to turn his sleepy
childhood city into the crown jewel of the Reich. For that purpose, the
German military forces included officials who were instructed to bring
important works of art with them. These works were concentrated in several
sites in Austria and Germany.

When the Allied attacks on Germany increased, the Nazis transferred the
stolen property to castles of historical importance, on the assumption that
they wouldn't be bombed, and to protected salt mines. The Fuehrer had
promised a thousand-year Reich, and the works of art were supposed to wait
patiently for the establishment of the new museum-city. Allied soldiers
found them in these collection centers. The Americans also included among
their forces experts who were instructed to look for stolen works of art
that had been hidden in the "liberated" areas. This took several years: The
works of art were transferred to a special central authority established for
the purpose, which dealt with returning the works to the countries from
which they had been looted. Each country, for its part, promised to do
everything possible in order to return them to their owners. Most did very

On the issue of works of art looted by the Nazis, there are two different
tracks: one relates to works that were transferred to various countries
immediately at the end of the war. Another consists of works that over the
years wound up in private collections or museums, and which come from
collections assembled by the Nazis from stolen works. These are complicated
cases, because it is difficult to find out how the work changed hands over
the years, and because in many cases the buyers acted in good faith. Most of
the legal proceedings carried out in recent years throughout the world deal
precisely with such situations.

$10 million for one of grandmother's paintings

In 2002, a Swiss businessman who was interested in buying a work by Picasso,
"Femme en Blanc" ("Woman in White)," turned to the Art Loss Register, a
commercial body that investigates the legal background of art transactions,
and ascertains that the works have changed hands legally. The Register
discovered that the painting by Picasso, which was owned at the time by the
Alsdorf family of Chicago (generous patrons of the arts) belonged in the
1930s to Carlota Landsberg of Berlin.

When Landsberg fled from Germany with her only daughter, Edith, in 1938, she
handed over the painting to a Jewish art dealer for safekeeping. A short
time later, the dealer fled to Paris with the painting. In 1939 he left
Europe for the United States, but left the painting behind. The Picasso work
was eventually confiscated by the Nazis. Carlota Landsberg and her daughter
also went to live in the United States.

After the war, Landsberg began to search for the painting, but without
success. In 1969 she signed a special agreement with the German government:
The government transferred about $27,000 to her as compensation for the loss
of the work, and Landsberg promised to return the money if the painting was
discovered. Both parties were aware that it was worth many times the sum she
had received.

Carlota's daughter had a son, Thomas Bennigson, whose parents died when he
was young. The years passed, and in 1994 Landsberg died as well, without
knowing that 19 years earlier, in 1975, James Alsdorf had bought "Woman in
White" for $375,000, at the Steven Hahn Gallery in New York. Bennigson was
already a law student at the University of California, Berkeley, when in
2002 they called him from the Art Loss Register and told him that the
painting that had belonged to his grandmother had been offered for sale at a
Los Angeles gallery for $10 million. Bennigson turned to attorney E. Randol
Schoenberg, who filed a suit in his name in the California courts, demanding
that the painting be returned to Bennigson. At present the parties are
preparing for a legal battle over "Woman in White," after months of
discussions in various legal instances that focused on the question of the
authority of the California court to rule on the issue.

Schoenberg, a young lawyer, has been conducting for several years a legal
battle for the return of works of art to their owners; his fight is arousing
a great deal of interest in many countries. Schoenberg represents Maria
Altmann, a resident of Los Angeles, who is demanding that the Gallery
Belvedere in Vienna return six works by Gustav Klimt that belonged to her
family. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a precedent-setting decision,
concluded that the American legal system has the authority to rule on the

Government apathy

Attorney Edward Fagan, who became known for the class action suits he
conducted against the Swiss banks in 1998 on the issue of "Nazi gold," stood
outside the German Finance Ministry in Berlin last June, and announced that
he plans to file a suit for $18 billion against the German government.
Fagan, representing the Association of Holocaust Victims for Restitution of
Artworks and Masterpieces (AHVRAM), claims that the government did not make
a proper effort to return 2,000 works of art that remained in its hands to
their owners, from the property transferred to it after World War II. In
response, the German Finance Ministry published an announcement stating that
over one million works of art have been returned to their owners or to heirs
since the end of the war. The ministry estimated the value of the works
whose owners have not yet been located at about 60 million euros.

A few weeks ago, Fagan filed a lawsuit in a New York court against
Sotheby's, claiming that since the 1970s the large auction house dealt in
works of stolen art, including paintings by artists like Van Gogh, Titian
and Rembrandt. Sotheby's replied this week that "The claim is patently false
and the lawsuit is without merit. Sotheby's has moved to dismiss the
complaint. An earlier complaint filed by the same attorney has already been

Not all of Fagan's colleagues are impressed by his activities in the field
of art, and particularly by his belligerent declarations. Lucille Roussin is
a New York lawyer with a doctorate in the history of art and archaeology,
who specializes in making arrangements for returning works of art to
Holocaust survivors. Roussin says that until last week she couldn't find a
copy of Fagan's suit against the German government. "In any case, a class
action in this area is a rather strange idea," she says. "This is not a
matter of identical damage done to many people." She explained that each
work of art has changed hands many times, that each has a different value,
and the method of returning it to its owner is very complicated.

Roussin says that lawsuits for returning works of art were filed in the
United States many years ago, but in recent years there has been a great
awakening. "One of the reasons is the opening of archives, in Germany and
all over the world," she says. "In addition, after many years in which the
main emphasis was on emotional rehabilitation and dealing with the trauma of
the Holocaust, recently more survivors have become aware of the cultural
heritage that was stolen from them."

In the United States and in Israel there have been calls for European
soul-searching regarding stolen works of art that hang in museums on the
Continent. Roussin dares to say what many of her colleagues are afraid to
express - that the situation in the United States and in Israel needs to be
improved too. "During my last visit to the Israel Museum I saw several
pictures next to which it says that the work was contributed by the IRSO.
That was an organization - established on the basis of the special authority
set up by the Americans after the war, for returning works of art - which
received property that was known to have belonged to Jews, in order to
distribute it among organizations and museums, as it saw fit," she says.
"But who among the visitors knows that these initials mean that the works
were transferred to Israel from Europe in the 1950s, because their owners
could not be found? Some of the works may belong to someone, and the least
that should be done is to publish the information, and make sure people know
that those works of art come from the property of European Jews."

Special labels

In 1951, 28 crates arrived in Israel. The crates contained a real treasure:
dozens of works of art that had been collected by the Allied forces at the
end of the war, and transferred a short time later to the JRSO (Jewish
Restitution Successor Organization, which in many documents was also
referred to as the IRSO). Mordechai Narkiss, then the director of the
Bezalel art school and museum, reviewed the works. With the opening of the
Israel Museum in the mid-1960s, the works were transferred to the museum

In the 1950s the works continued to arrive from Europe, little by little.
Stephanie Rahum, the senior curator of modern art at the Israel Museum, says
that some of the important works in the collection came to the museum in
that way, including the 1915 painting "The City," by Egon Schiele, as well
as works by Alfred Sisley and Max Lieberman. Rahum says that when a work
that was in those deliveries is displayed, the plaque alongside it includes
the letters IRSO. "These works are a memorial to people who perished in the
Holocaust," she says.

"When we guide groups, we are sure to mention the significance of the
letters IRSO, and to explain that these are works that arrived at the Israel
Museum when their owners could not be located, and that if they are found
they will receive their property back. We have an exact listing of these

Nehama Guralnik, curator of international art at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art,
points out a work by German expressionist Erich Heckel, which may have
originated in the IRSO deliveries. When she tried to learn about the history
of the work, Guralnik discovered that it was brought to Israel in September
1953, transferred to the Tel Aviv Museum about six years later, and added to
the collection. "On the back of the picture I found a label saying that the
work originally belonged to the Mannheim Museum in Germany," says Guralnik.
"The rest of its history isn't sufficiently clear." Guralnik doesn't know of
other works in the museum collection that may have come from the IRSO. And
in any case, in the Tel Aviv Museum, such works don't receive any special

The concentrated effort made by the Allies at the end of the war to return
works of art to the countries from which they had been stolen resolved many
injustices when it came to museums and some owners of important collections.
But the number of works that belonged to others was also huge, and the
governments of many European countries did nothing with them. Moreover, the
right of citizens to claim their property was drastically curtailed in some
countries. In Germany, it was first decided that lawsuits could be filed
only until 1948, a very short time for those whose world had fallen apart,
and who were required to produce documents or give precise testimony
regarding works they hadn't seen for many years.

Research studies published in the 1990s breathed new life into efforts to
locate lost works of art. The book "The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's
Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War," by Lynn Nichols,
published in 1994, documented the entry into the international art market of
works confiscated by the Nazis. It made waves. In 1995, the Austrian
government announced that it would transfer the Mauerbach collection, which
was named after the monastery where the Nazis stockpiled a large group of
looted works, to the country's Jewish community. It was agreed that the
property would be sold at public auction, and the money be distributed among
survivors, the local community and Jewish organizations. At the auction,
which took place in 1996, about 1,000 items were sold, for about $10

Before the auction, Sophie Lillie, an art historian, was invited to
investigate how the various works had reached the Mauerbach collection. She
entered the Federal Monuments Office in the heart of Vienna, and emerged six
years later, with a thick book called "Was Einmal War" (What Once Was), in
which she documented almost 150 collections of Austrian Jews, with a precise
listing of the works they contained.

One of the collections she investigated was that of Jenny Steiner, who
managed to escape from Austria to the United States, and left behind some
paintings by Klimt. One of them is "Water Snakes II."

"The painting was never recovered since it was seized from Jenny Steiner in
1938," said Lillie this week. "It was put up for sale at the Dorotheum
auction house in Vienna in 1940, but withdrawn before the auction and
acquired directly by Gustav Ucicky (thanks to the intervention of Baldur von
Schirach, the Nazi administrator, or `major,' of Vienna). Gustav Ucicky was
the illegitimate son of Klimt, a collector of his work and a Nazi film
producer. His wife inherited the painting upon Gustav's death." Lillie says
she hasn't been able to confirm what happened to the painting after that.

Schiele ignited a battle

One of the catalysts for dealing with the Mauerbach collection was a study
published in the mid-1990s in Art News, in which it was claimed that the
Austrian government was not doing anything to return the works in its
possession. But the subject burst into international awareness in 1997,
after a U.S. court received a request to delay the return to Austria of two
paintings by Egon Schiele, which were on display at an exhibition in New
York's Museum of Modern Art. A short time later, the court ruled that one of
the works would stay in the United States rather than be returned to the
Leopold Museum in Vienna, until clarification of a claim by an American
citizen, Lea Bondi, that the painting had been taken from her by the Nazis.

A year later, the U.S. State Department initiated a convention on the
subject, with representatives of 44 countries participating, to discuss ways
of locating and returning the property. This led to many initiatives in the
field. In Europe, the organization headed by Anne Weber was established
shortly afterward and initiated preparation of a huge data base, the Central
Registry, sponsored by the Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Oxford
University. It contains lists of works that were looted by the Nazis,
alongside the names of their past and present owners, and photos of the
works. Searches can be conducted according to various parameters.

"The tragedy in this matter is lack of information," says Weber. "Who can
conduct a serious search on his own in hundreds of museum warehouses?" The
data base compiled by the organization contains information about the legal
situation in each of the countries in which the issue is likely to arise. It
documents about 20,000 works. The site tries to present as many photos of
the works as possible, and the information appears in English alongside
other languages.

Weber has harsh criticism of some European countries. "In Germany, for
example, fewer than 20 museums (out of about 6,000) have bothered to publish
information about suspicious works of art in their collections," she says.

Germany and Russia have in fact set up Internet sites in recent years,
containing information about stolen works of art, but Weber says that "the
Germans initiated the site in order to list works of art that were looted
from Germany by the Russians, and only afterward did they begin to list the
works that were looted by the Nazis. As far as the Russian site is
concerned, it is meant only for Russian speakers, so that it misses the goal
of addressing as many people as possible."

In Britain, says Weber, they have taken several positive steps. For example,
a few months ago the British Museum published an unusually frank notice, to
the effect that it is possible that many works in its collections originate
in the trade in looted art.

France experienced an earthquake in 1997, with the publication of a book by
journalist Hector Feliciano, "The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal
the World's Greatest Works of Art," which investigates how French art
collections made their way to Nazi Germany and back to the art world in
dubious ways.

Weber says that over 60,000 works were returned to France at the end of
World War II. About 45,000 of them were returned to their owners, about
13,000 were sold, and of the remaining 2,000 works, whose owners could not
be found, some were chosen by French museums for "temporary" display. These
works are displayed on a special Web site set up by the French government.

There have been contacts going on for several years regarding loaning some
of these works to the Israel Museum. The French embassy in Israel insists
that such a loan will not be implemented until Israel passes a law
guaranteeing immunity from lawsuits by Israelis regarding ownership of the
loaned works. The reason given is that such a claim may crop up in France as
well in the future, and then Israel will be required to return the works to
France, in order to clarify the matter.

The director of the Israel Museum, James Snyder, doesn't believe that the
differences of opinion are so great. "The demand for immunity from lawsuits
is routine in connection with loans of works of art among museums," he says,
"and there is no reason why this case should be different. We are discussing
with the French the possibility that they will loan us, for the long term or
for temporary exhibits, works from that same large body of work that has
remained in the hands of the French Museums Authority, and we consider this
very important."

Martin Weil, former director of the Israel Museum, and today director of the
Bracha Foundation, which supports the arts, can say what they are afraid
even to imply in the French embassy and the present museum administration:
"The level of these works is not uniform, and not all of them are worthy of
being displayed in the museum," says Weil. "And even were they to pass this
hurdle of quality, I'm not certain that as a country, Israel has to demand
that they be displayed here. If the paintings were stolen from the
collection of a French Jew, for example, the fact that they wound up at an
exhibit in a public museum like the Louvre, is not a bad solution."

In the international art market, the complications involved in selling a
work of art that doesn't have a "clean" pedigree has motivated the large
auction houses to carry out investigations regarding every item that reaches
them. The main office of Sotheby's in London has established a special
department for that purpose, headed by attorney Lucien Simons. In recent
years, the information gathered there has also served to locate possible
heirs to the works. Of course this is done for economic reasons as well: In
1999, for example, Sotheby's located the owner of a Claude Monet painting,
"Monceau Park," 1878 (one of three paintings he painted on that subject) and
helped the owner and the person who had the painting to reach an agreement.
Thus Sotheby's was able to sell the work in the end to a third party for
about 3.5 million pounds sterling, to the satisfaction of both sides.

The Pissarro in the Israel Museum

The Israel Museum was directly involved in recent years in a claim for the
return of a work of art that was looted by the Nazis. The work was found in
the museum's collection in Jerusalem. In the Impressionist art wing, the
painting "Montmartre Boulevard: Spring" (1897) by Camille Pissarro is on
display, and next to it is a text that explains its history over the past
century, including an embarrassing episode.

The work was purchased in 1960 by John and Frances Loeb of New York. In
1997, after John's death, it was donated to the Israel Museum. Two years
later the museum received a letter from a woman named Gerta Silberberg,
widow of the son of a Jewish industrialist and art collector from Breslau,
Germany, who claimed that the painting belonged to her. The painting had
been confiscated from her husband's father in 1935, and for years there was
no trace of it. In the end it showed up at a public auction, and that was
how it came into the hands of the Loebs. The parties finally reached an
amicable compromise, which is worded in marvelously diplomatic language:
Silberberg did receive ownership of the work, but left it "on loan for 10
years" in the Israel Museum. The director of the museum, James Snyder, is
justly proud of this arrangement.

This example illustrates how vital it is to victims of the looting to be
acknowledged. But it also raises another delicate issue, which the heads of
the museums in Israel are apparently afraid to discuss. To date, no
comprehensive study has been carried out in Israel regarding the provenance
of the works of art that comprise the collections in local museums, and even
when information exists, as in the Israel Museum, it is not sufficiently
accessible to the public.

Perhaps such a study should be carried out, at the initiative of the Israel
Museums Association, for example, before the day on which a real lawsuit
reaches one of these respectable institutions, and not only a letter from an
insulted heiress. Anne Weber says that about 700 works of art were brought
to Israel in the context of IRSO, "not only paintings, but tallit ornaments,
for example. The Nazis tore them off the tallit, because they considered
them to have artistic value. Such works were also sent to Israel in the
1950s, and when they are displayed in the Israel Museum, the letters IRSO
appear alongside them."

The subject of this 1907 portrait by Gustav Klimt was Maria Altmann's aunt;
Altmann is demanding its return in a lawsuit in the U.S.