Court battle for recovery of impressionist painting stolen from Jewish family by Nazis 

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — A San Diego man is one step closer to recovering a famous impressionist painting that was looted by the Nazis during World War II.

This week, an appeals court in San Francisco gave the Cassirer family the go-ahead to take their lawsuit to trial.

It’s the decision that this family has been waiting for, a Jewish family who fled from Germany during the Holocaust is seeking justice in reclaiming a painting that was stolen from them by the Nazis.

For close to 40 years, the painting by Impressionist master Camille Pissarro was treasured by the family of David Cassirer, even hanging in the front parlor of the family’s home in Berlin, Germany.

These days, David Cassirer can only show a photo reproduction. The original 1897 oil painting is an ocean away in a museum in Madrid, Spain.

For the last 17 years, Cassirer and his sister have waged a relentless battle to win the painting back after the Nazis forced his great-grandmother, Lily, to give it up in 1939.

Lily and her husband turned the painting over to the Nazis for $360, money that was never collected by the family.

The deal was this: The art in exchange for their lives. The Nazis agreed to give the Cassirers a visa to England.

In the years that followed, the painting, which captures a rain-swept street in Paris, traveled from country to country changing hands from one owner to another, winding up in the United States in the 1950’s. 

And in 1996, an American art dealer who was making money on looted Nazi art sold the masterpiece to a German collector, but not just any collector.

Baron Von Thyssen came from one of Germany’s most powerful families. His father and uncle were members of Adolph Hitler’s inner circle.

In 1993, Thyssen sold the painting and the rest of his collection to a museum in Madrid, the museum is named after Thyssen.

Lily and her husband never saw their precious painting again. For decades, the Cassirer family had no idea where it was, or even if it had survived the war.

Then, in December of 1999, a phone call and a revelation. A friend of Cassirer’s family saw a photo of the painting in a book about the Thyssen Museum.

But the museum in Spain refused to return the painting, claiming it had bought the art in good faith.

David’s father filed a lawsuit in 2005, arguing that the museum ignored signs that the painting had been looted, visible on the back, a torn gallery label from the Cassirer gallery, a gallery owned by David’s cousins, famous Berlin art collectors.

David calls it the smoking gun, the damning evidence that will be presented at trial.

After going back and forth in the courts, a federal appeals court has finally ruled in the family’s favor, consenting to the Cassirer’s request to bring the case to trial.

The court ruling in the family’s favor came this week, reversing an earlier decision that said the art was the property of the Spanish museum.

The attorney for the Cassirer family, David Boies, said a similar scenario is taking place right now, an unscrupulous art dealers buy looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria.

For the Cassirer’s family, the decades-long quest to recover the painting may be coming to a close. David said he hopes for some sort of resolution in the next one or two years. 

Categories: Local San Diego News