Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- A Dutch government panel rejected claims by the heirs of two Jewish art dealers for all but one of 189 works in the national collection, citing a lack of evidence that they owned the works and lost them due to Nazi persecution.
The Restitutions Committee recommended that the Dutch government return Ferdinand Bol’s “Man With a High Cap” to the 21 descendants of the brothers Nathan and Benjamin Katz. This was the only instance where both ownership and loss under duress could be ascertained, it said. The gallery’s records have not survived.
“Ownership of most of the works has not proved very probable,” the Dutch Restitutions Committee said in the recommendation, published late yesterday on its website. “During the occupation, the Katz brothers often acted as middlemen and intermediaries for German buyers.”
The brothers operated a flourishing art dealership in the Dutch city of Dieren and continued to trade after the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. The heirs, represented by Thomas Kline of Andrews Kurth LLP in Washington, included 65 artworks sold to the German museum director Hans Posse for Adolf Hitler’s planned “Fuehrermuseum” in Linz in their claim.
The claim also comprised 14 works sold to Hermann Goering, Hitler’s right-hand man in the Nazi party, for his vast private collection, and 101 works sold to Alois Miedl, a German dealer with ties to Goering who operated in the Netherlands.
Both Hitler and Goering prized Dutch Old Masters highly. Paintings they purchased from the Katz dealership included works by Salomon van Ruysdael, Philips Wouwerman, Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, as well as copies of Rembrandts and Van Dycks.
The paintings were returned to the Netherlands from Germany after World War II, part of a vast trove of art plundered by the Nazis and recovered by the Allies.
“The Katz family is disappointed in today’s decision,” the heirs said in an e-mailed statement sent late yesterday. “We believe these sales were made under pressure, and were not normal business transactions. The family will be requesting reconsideration of its claim.”
Their dealings with Nazi buyers initially helped to protect the Katz brothers from some anti-Jewish measures. Yet the dealership went into liquidation in February 1941 and its assets were taken over by an “Aryan” business for which they continued to work. Nathan Katz left for Switzerland in 1942.
His brother left for Spain with a group of other relatives later that year after Nathan had arranged their visas. Their permission to emigrate was obtained in return for a Rembrandt painting. It has since been restituted to the family.
“Although the pressure on the brothers and their family built up steadily during the occupation as a consequence of increasing anti-Jewish measures by the Nazi regime, the Katz brothers enjoyed a special position as long as they continued supplying art to Posse,” the committee found.
After the war, Nathan Katz was awarded a medal by the Dutch government for financially supporting refugees in Switzerland. The brothers’ dealings with Nazi collectors during the occupation also became the subject of an investigation by the Dutch Political Intelligence Department. The case against them was eventually dismissed.
In the instance of the Bol painting, it is likely that Nathan Katz sold it to Posse to secure the departure of members of his family, the committee said. The sale took place in November 1941 -- a month after a general emigration ban for Jews in the Netherlands and as the first deportations took place.
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