Painting seized by Nazis returned to Jewish family 87 years later

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A painting that the Nazis seized from a wealthy Jewish family 87 years ago has been returned to its rightful heirs this week after it was discovered at a small museum in upstate New York.

The painting “Winter” by American artist Gari Melchers was one of more than 1,000 pieces of art and artifacts seized from the Mosse family, well-to-do Berlin residents who spoke out against the Nazis in their newspaper Berliner Tageblatt.

“It was one of the first large expropriations undertaken by the Nazis, a template for what became, unfortunately, a well-oiled machine,” Roger Strauch, president of the Mosse Foundation and the step-great-grandson of wronged publishing magnate Rudolf Mosse, said during an online repatriation ceremony held at the Albany FBI office Thursday.

“Winter” was sold at auction in May 1934 to an unknown buyer. It ended up at a New York City gallery five months later, where Bartlett Arkell, a wealthy collector and president of the company that became Beech-Nut Packing Co. in Canajoharie, first spotted it.

Arkell shipped the painting to upstate New York, and it has been part of the collection of the museum near the Mohawk River that bears his name ever since.

No evidence suggests that Arkell was aware of the painting’s dark history, according to acting US Attorney for the Northern District of New York Antoinette Bacon.

An innocent post on the museum’s Facebook page in January 2017 was an unlikely lead for researchers.

The post, illustrated with a photo of the painting, announced the Arkell museum’s seasonal closing.

“Enjoy Winter!” it said.

A student working with Dr. Meike Hoffmann of the Free University of Berlin — who heads the Mosse Art Research Initiative — happened to notice it.

Provenance researchers, along with Arkell Museum executive director Suzan Friedlander, were able to link the painting to the Mosse family.

Felicia Lachmann-Mosse, heir to her father, Rudolf, ran the family’s newspaper with her husband, Hans Lachmann-Mosse, at the time the painting was taken.

The couple, viewed as high-profile symbols of the “Jewish press,” was persecuted and fled Germany in 1933.

The Nazis seized all their assets, including the painting, sometimes known as “Skaters” or “Snow,” which Rudolf Mosse had purchased in 1900.

The formal handover of the painting back to the family was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Mosse family lost nearly everything because they were Jews. But they did not lose hope,” Bacon said at the repatriation ceremony. “While this certainly does not take away the pain that the Mosses endured, I hope it provides the family with some measure of justice.”

Now the painting is expected to be auctioned through Sotheby’s, where it may attract hundreds of thousands of dollars in bids, according to Strauch.

The majority of recovered artworks have been given back to their original owners or sold at auction, he said.

With Post wires

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