An 82-year-old Holocaust survivor and his family are suing the German government over an extensive art collection, including paintings by El Greco and Peter Paul Rubens, seized by the Nazis and sold at auction during World War II.
The lawsuit is unusual because it is seeking damages for lost art rather than the return of items that once belonged to Holocaust victims, lawyers said. The suit estimates the 400 or more works would be worth "tens of millions" of dollars today.
Retired economics professor Fred Westfield said he was celebrating this 12th birthday when he last saw his uncle, Walter Westfeld, a renowned art collector. Two days later came Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, on Nov. 9, 1938, when Nazis looted and burned Jewish synagogues and businesses across Germany and Austria.
The young Westfield fled Germany shortly thereafter as part of a British refugee program in response to Kristallnacht that brought about 10,000 Jewish children to England. He later moved to the United States with his parents, when the family anglicized their name by adding an "i".
Walter Westfeld, though, was arrested a few days after Kristallnacht on currency violation charges for trying to move his art work to the United States and the Nazis auctioned hundreds of his painting and tapestries to pay his fine, the lawsuit says.
Among the items were an El Greco that Adolf Hitler wanted for his personal collection, paintings by Dutch masters Frans Hals and Peter Paul Rubens and works by French impressionist Camille Pissarro.