Oberlin College Finally To Return Drawing Stolen By Nazis To Heirs Of Jewish Holocaust Victim, After 17-Year Refusal
The Grünbaum heirs tried in vain for 17 years to get Oberlin College to return the drawing, including multiple demands and a civil lawsuit. But it was a recent criminal seizure warrant out of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and attendant bad publicity that appears to have swayed Oberlin College finally to give up the stolen property.
This is an update to our October 1, 2023, exclusive report, Oberlin College’s 17-Year Refusal To Return Artwork Stolen By The Nazis From A Jewish Holocaust Victim.
See that post for full details on a drawing, Girl With Black Hair, by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele, stolen by the Nazis from Fritz Grünbaum, a prominent Jewish art collector and cabaret artist, who was forced under duress to sign over rights to his collection as part of the Nazi confiscation of Jewish property, while interned at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, where he died in 1941. The Grünbaum heirs tried in vain for 17 years to get Oberlin College to return the drawing, including multiple demands and a civil lawsuit. But it was a recent criminal seizure warrant out of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and attendant bad publicity that appears to have swayed Oberlin College finally to give up the stolen property.
In our October 1 report I noted how differently Oberlin College treated the Grünbaum heirs:
Oberlin College’s fight to avoid returning this stolen art is in contrast to the college’s repatriation of an item of Native American craft returned to the Nez Perce tribe in 2002. Are items stolen from Jews during the Holocaust less worthy of return than items obtained from Native American tribes? …
Why such a long and hard fight – starting at least in 2006 – to hold onto Girl With Black Hair? It’s not like returning Girl With Black Hair would strike a serious financial blow to the college or cause a serious disruption to the Allen Museum. It’s just one drawing out of 15,000 in the museum that sits in storage and not even on display.
There is precedent for Oberlin College returning items wrongfully (but not necessarily illegally) acquired. In 2002, Oberlin College returned a twined root bag that had been taken from the Nez Perce tribe a century before, and even held a symposium celebrating the return….
Oberlin College appears to have “lawfully” possessed the twined root bag, but returned it anyway.
Oberlin College also is reviewing its inventory of artifacts and human remains for possible repatriation to Native American tribes. Whether Oberlin College “lawfully” possessed those items did not seem to be a defense raised by the college….
I also predicted the bad publicity would cause Oberlin College to relent:
I have a feeling Oberlin College will end up returning the stolen artwork, rather than fight the seizure warrant. Perhaps that already is in process, but not publicly announced. It’s not as if the college needs more bad publicity, after the Gibson’s Bakery debacle.
Yet the question remains, why fight for so long the return of an item stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust? Why not treat it like the twined root bag returned to the Nez Perce tribe, where ethics and morality — not the law — led Oberlin College to give up its possession? Are items stolen from Jews during the Holocaust less worthy of non-legal ethical considerations than items obtained from Native American tribes?
Why wait until the legal and public pressure mounts? Why not have returned the artwork in 2006, or last year when a civil lawsuit seeking its return was filed. Will it really take a criminal seizure warrant to get back this stolen property?
It’s often said that “integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” No one was watching Oberlin College as relates to Girl With Black Hair for most of the 17 years Oberlin College has been fighting its return. Oberlin College had almost two decades to do the right thing as to the stolen drawing, when no one was watching. Now people are watching, so no virtue signaling is warranted if Oberlin College finally gives up possession of the drawing.
Our reporting received considerable media attention, including multiple media appearances, including on the popular Lars Larson national radio show.
It looks like Oberlin College is returning the drawing. A Notice of Voluntary Dismissal was filed in the federal court case yesterday, which normally signifies a settlement:
ArtNews is reporting that a settlement agreement was signed and the Girl With Black Hair will be returned:
The Allen Memorial Art Museum at Ohio’s Oberlin College and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh will voluntarily return works by Egon Schiele to the family of Fritz Grünbaum after the Manhattan District Attorney’s office issued warrants for them last month….
The two stipulations about the returned works were signed by Carnegie Museums president and CEO Steven Knapp as well as Oberlin College vice president, general counsel, and secretary Matt Lahey.
Emails to plaintiffs’ counsel and Oberlin College’s media relations about the settlement and dismissal have not been returned as of this writing.
We will update this post as more information becomes available.DONATE
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