KRISTALLNACHT – 70 years later
Retired professor Fred Westfield was 12 years old when he last saw his uncle, Walter Westfeld, a renowned art collector. Two days later came Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, on November 9, 1938. Kristallnacht was a coordinated attack on Jewish people and their property during which nearly 30,000 Jews were arrested and deported to concentration camps. Walter was arrested by the Nazis for trying to move his art work to the United States and the Nazis auctioned hundreds of pieces of his art to pay his fine.
Four years ago, while doing a web search, Fred Westfield discovered that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was looking for Walter’s descendants because they had in their possession "Portrait of a Man and a Woman in an Interior" by 17th century Dutch master Eglon van der Neer. The museum suspected that the portrait had once been owned by Walter, and had been illegally sold by the Nazis.
Now 82, Fred Westfield and his family are suing the German government over his uncle’s extensive art collection that had been seized by the Nazis and sold at auction during World War II.
According to The Associated Press, the lawsuit is unusual because ‘it is seeking damages for lost art rather than the return of items that once belonged to Holocaust victims.’ Generally speaking, previous cases have generally sought to have the art returned to the family’s estate from current owners. Under the Hague Convention, Germany has 3 months to accept or reject the lawsuit.
Fred Westfield estimates that the 400 or so works of art would be valued at tens of millions of dollars today.
David M Smith