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Holocaust Claims Processing Office and U.S. Customs Mark Holocaust Remembrance Day with Return of 17th Century Painting
Found by Former HCPO Intern and Returned by U.S. Customs
Event at Museum of Jewish Heritage

April 21, 2009

New York, N.Y.: The New York State Banking Department’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Attorney’s Office - Southern District of New York today announced the restitution of a 17th century Dutch oil painting on Holocaust Remembrance Day to its rightful owner, the Estate of Dr. Max Stern. This painting is the sixth, of several hundred listed in the claim filed by Dr. Stern’s estate, to be recovered.

“I am pleased that on this day we are able to honor the memories of those who perished during the Holocaust by announcing the return of this painting to the Stern estate,” said Richard H. Neiman, Superintendent of Banks for New York State.  “This has been a wonderful example of state and federal agencies, as well as private parties, working together to ensure that justice prevails.”

Former HCPO Graduate Student Assistant, Elizabeth Nogrady, discovered the painting known as “A Portrait of a Musician Playing a Bagpipe” by an unknown artist on the Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts Web site, while performing other research and remembered it as being part of the Stern claim. Upon learning of the painting’s whereabouts the HCPO informed the Estate, who then reached out to ICE.

“It is only fitting that we return this precious work of art on Holocaust Remembrance Day,” said Peter J. Smith, special agent-in-charge of ICE Office of Investigations in New York. “More than 200 paintings from the Stern’s gallery were forcibly sold. ICE is committed to finding all stolen pieces of art from the Holocaust and returning them to their rightful owners.”
 
ICE, together with the U.S. Attorney’s Office - Southern District of New York, pursued the painting based on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decision concerning Winterhalter’s Girl from the Sabine Mountains which declared all paintings sold at the 1937 Lempertz auction as a stolen property. The Steigrad gallery, upon learning the painting’s history, waived all rights to the artwork.

The painting was returned today by Smith and Lev L. Dassin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York,  at an event at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, Battery Park City.

As a person of Jewish descent, Dr. Stern, owner of the Galerie Stern in Düsseldorf, did not fit the membership requirements of the Reich Chamber of Culture (RKK) and in 1935 was legally prohibited from buying and selling art in Germany. On September 1937, the RKK gave Dr. Stern the final order to immediately sell his gallery’s remaining inventory through a Nazi-approved RKK dealer. The Gestapo enforced this order and on November 13, 1937 Dr. Stern liquidated the gallery’s remaining stock of more than 200 paintings, including the one being returned today, at a fraction of their market value at Lempertz auction house in Cologne.

Dr. Clarence Epstein, Director of Special Projects and Cultural Affairs at Concordia University, heads up the Max Stern Art Restitution Project and received the painting as the Estate’s representative.

“Our thanks go out to the HCPO for their continued diligent pursuit to recover Stern’s lost artworks and to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the instrumental role they played in recovering this painting,” said Epstein.

The HCPO is a division of the New York State Banking Department.  It was created in 1997 to help Holocaust victims and their heirs recover: assets deposited in banks; unpaid proceeds of insurance policies issued by European insurers; and artworks that were lost, looted or sold under duress.  The HCPO does not charge claimants for its services.  To date, the HCPO has helped return over $138 million in bank claims, insurance claims, and other assets, and has assisted in securing the return of 33 works of art. 

The New York State Banking Department is the regulator for all state-chartered banking institutions, virtually all of the United States offices of international banking institutions, all of the State’s mortgage brokers, mortgage bankers, check cashers, money transmitters and budget planners. The aggregate assets of the depository institutions supervised by the Banking Department are more than $2.2 trillion.

In addition to regulating banking institutions, the Banking Department is active in informing and educating all New Yorkers on banking matters. To contact the Banking Department, please call 1-877-BANK-NYS or visit our Web site at www.banking.state.ny.us.

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