NASHVILLE (CN) – Nazis arrested art dealer Walter Westfeld just after Kristallnacht and killed him at Auschwitz after seizing his collection of Old Masters paintings, including works by Rubens, Hals and van Dyck. Before killing him, the Nazis demanded to know what happened to an El Greco that Hitler wanted for his private collection. Now Westfeld’s heirs have sued Germany, demanding the return of the looted paintings.
Plaintiffs are descendants of Westfeld’s three brothers. Walter Westfeld, born in 1889, lived in Wuppertal, where he was a renowned art dealer. The Nazis’ First Nuremberg Law, of Sept. 15, 1935, deprived German Jews of their citizenship. A Nazi decree of February 1936 prohibited Jews from dealing art.
Westfeld managed to smuggle some money and one brother out of Germany before the Nazis killed him. He also managed to smuggle out Eglon van der Neer’s 17th century painting, “Portrait of a Man and a Woman;” it’s now in the Boston Museum of Art.
The Nazis arrested Westfeld on Nov. 15, 1938 and seized and sold or stole his collection. The family submits as evidence the Lempertz auction house catalogue of the sale. Lempertz still operates, in Cologne, as one of the largest art auction houses in the world.
The family says the Gestapo interrogated Westfeld about the El Greco Hitler wanted. They found documentation about other stolen paintings after communication with the Boston art museum about how they got the Dutch painting. Through the museum, the family says, they obtained the Lempertz catalogue.
The heirs say Germany owes them “tens of millions of dollars” for the looted art, which included paintings by Hals, Rubens, van Dyck and Camille Pissarro.
The family is represented by Fred Westfield of Bass Berry & Sims.