a statue of a lion lying down
A sculpture of a lion by August Gaul was restored to the Mosse family in 2015. (Photo/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)

Local hunt for art stolen by Nazis leads to new partnership

German public institutions have agreed to partner with the Berkeley-based Mosse Foundation to recover the family’s artwork that was stolen by the Nazis, according to a law firm investigating the stolen works.

The partnership was announced at a press conference in Berlin early Tuesday, and will help the Mosse Foundation recover the 4,000 artworks that remain at large. Thus far efforts lead by J. Eric Bartko, investigations director at the law firm Bartko Zankel Bunzel Miller, have recovered 18 pieces, he told J.

Rudolph Mosse was a philanthropist and publisher during the Weimar Republic in Germany, and a public critic of the Nazi party. Roger Strauch of Berkeley, where the foundation is based, is a friend of members of the Mosse family and a member of the board of the Mosse Foundation. The Mosse Foundation is focused on education and the arts.

In 1933 the Nazis confiscated the Mosse family’s art collection, as well as substantial property holdings. Under the direction of Karl Haberstock, an art advisor to Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich auctioned off the collection and other valuables in 1934.

According to Bartko, the partnership is significant because it is the first time German universities and public institutions have been willing to work with heirs of looted art.

The most difficult part of the investigation was obtaining proof in the form of documents that the the art was the property of the Mosses and that it had been illegally taken from them, Bartko told J.

The most critical piece of evidence he discovered was prepared by the Nazis — a detailed listing and appraisal of each of the items, which was prepared prior to the 1934 auction.

Among the recovered works is a statue of the lion created by August Gaul, a sculptor and painter who was prominent in the Berlin art scene before World War I. The sculpture was recovered by the law firm in 2015 from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Called the Mosse Art Restitution Project, recovery efforts began around 2012 at the behest of Mosse Foundation board member Roger Strauch. Over the years several paintings and statues have been recovered as a result of the law firm’s efforts.

Bartko told J. the partnership announced today was largely due to the fact the firm and the Mosse Foundation worked to partner with German institutions versus and adversarial approach.

According to a release which accompanied the Berlin press conference, the Mosse family published several significant publications in Germany, and became a symbol of the “Jewish press.” The publications, then run by Hans Lauchmann-Mosse — the son of Rudolph Mosse — were outspoken critics of the Hitler and the Nazi party.

max cherney
Max A. Cherney

Max A. Cherney is a staff writer at J. He can be reached at max@jweekly.com.