Nazis stole Renoir in 1941. The painting is finally returned to only heir of owner

For the first time, Sylvie Sulitzer lays eyes on Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s 1919 painting “Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin (Two Women in a Garden)” which was stolen from her grandfather by Nazis in 1941. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty)


Alfred and Marie Weinberger escaped Nazi-occupied Paris at the onset of World War II, but they couldn’t take their paintings with them.

The Jewish couple fled to the French Alps and left their paintings — several by Pierre-Auguste Renoir — sequestered in a Paris bank vault. One was “Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin (Two Women in a Garden),” one of the last paintings Renoir made before he died in 1919, when his rheumatoid arthritis was so severe he had to tie the paintbrush to his hand to grip it.

The Weinbergers would never see it again. On Dec. 4, 1941, the Nazis plundered Weinberger’s collection.

Alfred Weinberger would spend much of his life trying to get his paintings back. And he would find some — but never Renoir’s “Two Women in a Garden.” It would instead travel around the world, changing hands and eluding the Weinberger family. Then, in 2010, Weinberger’s granddaughter, Sylvie Sulitzer, with German attorneys, set out to recover the missing 1919 Renoir.

After years of investigation involving the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York, Sulitzer finally laid eyes on the painting Wednesday. She flew to New York from France for the first time to see the painting unveiled at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

“The extraordinary journey that this small work of art has made around the world and through time ends today,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, “when we get to return it to Alfred Weinberger’s last remaining heir: his granddaughter, Sylvie Sulitzer.”

Before Sulitzer discovered its existence, the painting had traveled out of Nazi hands to private collections in multiple countries, Sweeney said.

In 1942, it landed in the possession of the Nazis’ Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenbergthe Nazi task force responsible for pillaging and hoarding cultural artifacts from Jews and other enemies. The painting didn’t reemerge until 1975, when it surfaced at an art sale in Johannesburg, authorities said. It changed hands and traveled from there to London and then Zurich.

Then, in 2010, Sulitzer got a phone call. It was from lawyers in Berlin who were on a mission to return Nazi-stolen artifacts to their rightful owners, including Sulitzer’s family, she said Wednesday. They were wondering whether Sulitzer knew of her grandfather’s missing “Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin.”

This was the first time she was hearing about it, she said. Her grandfather had never talked about the stolen paintings, she said, because he never talked about the war. “As far as I can remember, nobody ever spoke about the war,” she said at a news conference Wednesday. “It was taboo.”

But she immediately agreed with the lawyers that she wanted to find it, she said.

Renoir’s “Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin.” (Sylvie Sulitzer/AP)

The mission to track down the rightful owners of the looted paintings had been aided that same year by the creation of an online database that organized all of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg task force’s detailed records about the artifacts they stole, said Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York.

Among the stolen artifacts was Alfred Weinberger’s missing “Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin.”

“The ERR meticulously registered and identified the artworks that were plundered, including providing detailed descriptions and even photographing them, leaving behind a detailed record of the works that they stole,” Berman said. “It’s a grim irony that these records, recently made publicly available online, have provided a path for victims and heirs to seek justice.”

In 2013, the lawyers helping Sulitzer had a hit on the painting: It popped up for sale at a Christie’s auction in New York, Berman said.

It had been in New York since at least 2005, when it appeared for sale at Sotheby’s. A 2009 Sotheby’s listingoffers a pre-sale estimate of $150,000 to $200,000 for the 1919 Renoir.

Federal authorities in New York began investigating. And Sulitzer made her claim.

“When you’re just a French woman living somewhere in the south of France, and then you hear the FBI is investigating, well, you can imagine, it’s a shock,” Sulitzer said at the news conference at the museum, where she was joined by law enforcement and museum officials. The discovery of the painting, she said, “brought me back when I was a young girl living with my grandfather, my mom and her brother. It’s more the symbol of the life I had with them.”

Sweeney and Berman said the owner of the painting, who was not disclosed, voluntarily relinquished it. Authorities would not speculate on the current value of the painting.

The painting will remain on display temporarily at the Museum of Jewish Heritage before it’s returned to Sulitzer. She said she would love to keep it, but she may have to put it up for auction for financial reasons.

Her grandfather had filed a restitution claim after the war in 1947, registering his losses with the government. In later decades, Sulitzer said she benefited from French restitution laws that compensate victims whose families’ belongings were stolen during World War II. Once the belongings are discovered, the victims must repay the government, she said, and she will need to come up with the money.

But even having it just for a time, she said, has meant more than any famous painting might be worth. Choking back tears, she said, “I’m very thankful to be able to show my beloved family, wherever they are, that after all that they’ve been through, there is a justice.”


Wherever you are, our Survivors and Liberators can address your school, congregation or civic group

images.pngThrough Skype in the Classroom, in cooperation with Microsoft, or in person, we can bring the latest in Holocaust education to you.  Contact us at or 215-464-4701.

Hate never takes a vacation, and neither do we.

Our museum hours during the High Holidays

The Museum will have shortened hours through the High Holidays in September:

  • Monday and Tuesday, September 10th and 11th: Closed in observance of Rosh Hashanah
  • Tuesday, September 18th: Closing early at 2:30 p.m. in observance of Erev Yom Kippur
  • Wednesday, September 19th: Closed in observance of Yom Kippur

Lviv commemorates Holocaust

Andriy Sadoviy, right, the mayor of Lviv, Ukraine, presents a glass copy of an old metal synagogue key to Yanina Hescheles, Polish writer and a Nazi concentration camp survivor, at a ceremony Sept. 2, 2018, marking the 75th anniversary of the annihilation of the city’s Jewish population by Nazi Germany. Lviv, once a major center of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, is commemorating the anniversary and honoring those working today to preserve that vanished world. The commemoration comes amid a larger attempt in Ukraine to preserve the memories of the prewar Jewish community. (AP Photo/Yevheniy Kravs)

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian city of Lviv, once a major center of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, is commemorating the 75th anniversary of the annihilation of the city’s Jewish population by Nazi Germany and honoring those working today to preserve what they can of that vanished world.

City authorities presented the honored recipients Sunday (Sept. 2) with 75 glass keys — replicas of a metal key that once belonged to a Jewish synagogue and that an American artist found at a street market in Lviv. The anniversary events, which included a concert performance at the ruins of former synagogues, come amid other attempts to revive suppressed memories of the Jews who once were an integral part of the region.

“God forbid our city once suffered such a misfortune,” Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said at the ceremony. “Today we cannot even imagine for a moment the pain, humiliation and grief that thousands of Lviv’s people suffered in the last century.”

Iryna Matsevko, deputy director of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe and an organizer of the anniversary events in Lviv, said it was the first time the western Ukrainian city has acknowledged the historical preservation efforts in such an extensive way.

Consciousness is growing in Ukrainian society of the need to remember the Jews who were annihilated by Nazi forces, with the participation of local people in some cases, during the German occupation of Eastern Europe, Matsevko said.

Initiatives have included introducing Jewish history courses at universities, new research by young Ukrainian scholars and grassroots efforts by volunteers, such as the ones that recovered Jewish gravestones that were used to pave roads and returned them to cemeteries.

“This is part of the process of reviving the memory of the Jewish heritage. Of course, this process is slow. I want it to be quicker, but for the last 10 years we have seen how the Jewish heritage is returning to people’s consciousness and a lot of activities are taking place,” Matsevko said. “It is very important that people are being acknowledged for their work in Jewish heritage.”

Before World War II, Lviv and the surrounding area belonged to Poland. Then called Lwow, it was the third-largest Jewish community in prewar Poland after Warsaw and Lodz, with most working as merchants, manufacturers or artisans. Before World War I, Lviv and the surrounding area were part of the eastern Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the city was called by its German name, Lemberg.

In June 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union, its former ally. When the German forces entered the city, they and their Ukrainian collaborators massacred Jews in the city and countryside. While occupying the area, Germans murdered Jews in the ghetto, the Belzec death camp and a forced labor camp, Janowska, with the final annihilation occurring in 1943, the anniversary observed on Sunday.

Of a population of about 150,000 Jews, only an estimated 1 percent survived.

In the postwar years, with Ukraine part of the Soviet Union, the memories of the murdered Jews began to vanish. Historian Omer Bartov has called the area a “land of memory and oblivion, coexistence and erasure, high hopes and dashed illusions.”

The remembrance work is taking place as Ukraine finds itself mired in crisis and conflict following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and a continuing Russia-backed insurgency in the east. Nationalism has been on the rise, and some Ukrainians laud the Nazi-affiliated irregulars who fought against the Soviet army in World War II.

To what extent this has led to greater anti-Semitism is a matter of dispute. Some of the people trying to sustain the history of Jewish life in western Ukraine think the amount of anti-Semitism is exaggerated as part of a Russian propaganda effort.

Among those honored was Marla Raucher Osborn, an American who heads Rohatyn Jewish Heritage. The group’s projects include restoring a Jewish cemetery in nearby Rohatyn.

Osborn said she was honored to be acknowledged along with the local activists “working quietly in local communities, recovering Jewish memory with little or no knowledge of their projects outside of those communities, especially among the distant Jewish diaspora.”

The glass keys were the work of New Mexico-based artist Rachel Stevens, who found the rusted synagogue key on which they were based in February while seeking remnants of Jewish culture in eastern Galicia as part of a research project.

Stevens used glass for the replicas because in Jewish tradition the material “represents the fragility of life.” Creating them “became a tangible way for me to express my grief about the past and my hope for the future,” she said.

“The idea for this artwork seems almost mystically delivered to me,” Stevens said.

(Vanessa Gera reported from Warsaw, and Randy Herschaft from New York.)

Our warmest wishes and renewed commitment for the New Year

imgresWe at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center would like to wish a Happy and Healthy New Year to all of our survivors, liberators, volunteers and supporters who will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah. In increasingly unstable and dangerous times where hate never takes a vacation, we will continue to do our part to make this a better world. May 5779 be our most successful year ever.

—Chuck Feldman, President, HAMEC

‘Get the Nazi out of New York.’ The secret operation to deport the last living Nazi defendant in the U.S. was a rare success.

Eli Rosenbaum had for years watched as Nazi war criminals lingered in the United States despite court orders for their deportation. He pushed for the last surviving Nazi defend

BY DEBBIE CENZIPER and JUSTINE COLEMAN, Washington Post, September 1, 2018.   Click for full report.

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