Superintendent Lawsky Announces Recovery of Two Works of Art For Heirs of Victim of Nazi Persecution

April 4, 2013

Art Belonged to Prominent Lawyer and Collector Who Settled in Mt. Vernon after Fleeing Germany

To date, the Department of Financial Services' (DFS) Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO) has Helped Return $163 Million in Assets to Victims’ Families and Recover 67 Works of Art

New York, NY – Benjamin M. Lawsky, Superintendent of Financial Services, today announced that two works of art, which were once part of the more than 800-piece art collection of a prominent lawyer subject to Nazi persecution, are being returned to his heirs more than 70 years after he was forced to sell his collection in pre-World War II Germany.

The drawings are being returned to the estate of Dr. Michael Berolzheimer, who died in 1942 after escaping from Germany and settling in Mt. Vernon in Westchester County. Dr. Berolzheimer's great-nephew, also named Michael Berolzheimer, is coordinating the restitution efforts on behalf of the heirs.

Benjamin M. Lawsky, Superintendent of Financial Services, said: “The return of these two pieces of art to Dr. Berolzheimer’s heirs is a small but important step in correcting the injustices which were inflicted upon him.”

The drawings are being returned as a result of the work of the Department of Financial Services Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO), which opened a claim to recover works for the Berolzheimer heirs in 2011. The HCPO earlier recovered three other works of art for the heirs and is currently working on 26 other restitution claims for the estate.

A Dutch antiquarian book seller who owned one of the two drawings agreed to return them after learning of its origin. He had purchased the drawing, the pen and ink portrait of a geographer made in 1834 by Reinier Craeyvanger, at a Sotheby’s auction in 2005. The Kunsthalle Bremen, an art museum in Bremen, Germany, is returning the second drawing, which is attributed to the Italian artist Giacomo Cavedone (1577-1660). The museum acquired the drawing in 1941.

The member of an established family of respected entrepreneurs in Bavaria, Dr. Berolzheimer was trained as a lawyer, but pursued a lifetime interest in fine art. He served on the acquisitions committees of several art museums.

The persecution of the Berolzheimer family escalated in 1938 when, like other German Jews, they were forced to pay an atonement tax, one of the anti-Jewish measures imposed by the Germany’s Nazi government.

Fleeing Germany in 1938, Dr. Berolzheimer and his family traveled first to Switzerland and then immigrated to the United States.  He lived in Westchester County until he died at the age of 76, never again to see the works of art he had collected over several decades.

Following the Berolzheimer family’s immigration, the Nazi government imposed numerous punitive taxes on the family and they were forced to relinquish all of their property and bank assets. Dr. Berolzheimer’s art collection was sold under duress at the Munich Art Auction House of Adolf Weinmüller on November 30 – December 1/2, 1938 and March 9 – 10, 1939.

Immediately after World War II, Dr. Berolzheimer’s stepson, Waldemar Schweisheimer, began a quest to recover the artwork which had been sold under duress. Dr. Berolzheimer’s heirs are the descendants of his step-children.

HCPO was created in 1997 to help Holocaust victims and their heirs recover lost assets, such as dormant bank accounts, unpaid proceeds of insurance policies and artworks stolen or sold under duress. It is the only government entity in the world that provides such comprehensive services free of charge or commission. To date, HCPO has helped return over $163 million in assets to victims’ families while also recovering 67 works of art.