Artwork believed to be stolen during the Holocaust from a Jewish art collector and entertainer have been rightly returned to the Nazi victim’s heirs after a 17-year battle with Oberlin College.
The Nazis first stole the drawing, “Girl With Black Hair,” by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele, from Fritz Grünbaum, a prominent Jewish art collector and cabaret artist, under the Nazi confiscation of Jewish property. Grünbaum died at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany in 1941.
The Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin — a private liberal arts college in Ohio — contains 15,000 items in its collection, including for several decades, “Girl With Black Hair.”
The Equal Protection Project (EPP) of the Legal Insurrection Foundation President William Jacobson told Fox News Digital that the art museum first bought the drawing in the late 1950s from an art dealer in France.
“They bought it, according to the court papers, in the late fifties from an art dealer in Paris, which of course should have raised flags,” Jacobson said. “Any art purchased in immediate postwar Europe you would know to check the provenance of it to make sure it wasn’t Nazi looted art.”
Jacobson said the Allen Memorial Art Museum was notified about the stolen piece from family members of Grünbaum “no later than 2006.”
Court documents show the college’s refusal to return the artwork in both 2006 and 2009, after Grünbaum family members requested the museum return it.
In 2016, Congress passed the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act (HEAR Act). The act provides victims of Nazi-era persecution and their heirs a fair and just opportunity to recover art stolen from their ancestors.
Under the HEAR Act, Grünbaum’s family sued Oberlin in 2022 for the artwork.
“The Grünbaum estate sued Oberlin College in late 2022, and Oberlin has been fighting the lawsuit,” Jacobson said. “(Oberlin) has been fighting it for about nine months. Still refusing to give it back.”
In September, the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office served a criminal seizure warrant to seize the disputed drawing.
Warrants issued by Bragg’s office said there is reasonable cause to believe that the artwork is stolen property. Prosecutors believe they have jurisdiction, because the artwork was bought and sold by Manhattan art dealers at some point, the Associated Press reported.
“Oberlin College announced, consistent with their position for 17 years, that ‘this is rightfully ours, we lawfully own it, and we’re not giving it back,'” Jacobson said. “And that changed, after the criminal warrant.
“But the reality is they’ve been fighting this for 17 years,” Jacobson added. “They fought it in civil court, in federal court, and they only gave in when they were going to look really bad, when all the world knew that they had stolen a painting looted by the Nazis from a concentration camp.”
Earlier this week, the college announced its plan to voluntarily return the drawing to the Grünbaum family.
In a statement to Fox News Digital, Oberlin College said it “invested significant resources” in the history of the artwork and “concluded it had been lawfully acquired.”
“Oberlin College purchased Egon Schiele’s drawing Girl with Black Hair in 1958. When questions relating to the artwork’s ownership came to light in the years that followed, Oberlin invested significant resources researching the history of its sale and purchase and concluded it had been lawfully acquired,” a spokesperson for the college said.
“This artwork was purchased for Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Art Museum by Charles Parkhurst, director of the museum from 1949 to 1962. As one of the ‘Monuments Men,’ he was celebrated for tracking down and returning art looted by Nazis in WWII,” the spokesperson added. “It is inconceivable that Parkhurst would have knowingly purchased any artwork that he believed might have been stolen.”
Oberlin said that once the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office began investigating the artwork, it voluntarily returned the drawing.
“The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, through its ongoing investigation, has nonetheless raised questions about the ownership of Girl with Black Hair,” the spokesperson continued. “As a result, we are voluntarily returning the drawing. We hope this will provide some measure of closure to the family of Fritz Grünbaum.”
Jacobson noted the irony of the situation due to Oberlin College being “one of the most virtue signaling progressive colleges in the country.”
The college recently voluntarily returned a Native American craft to the Nez Perce tribe.
“They had a whole symposium bragging about the fact that they’re giving this bag back to the Nez Perce tribe. And I don’t criticize them for giving it back,” Jacobson said. “I think the point is, look how they’re treating that tribe as opposed to this family who is trying to get back the property stolen from their immediate ancestor.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.