The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

February 19, 2014

A family's 70-year quest to regain treasures stolen by Nazis


Jews had been the particular targets of art looting, and many of those who survived the war did not return to their former homelands. The Goodmans, who weren’t religious, had in fact converted to Lutheranism in the 19th century, hoping it would help in the face of rising European anti-Semitism. The distinction was lost on the Nazis.

Some restitution experts say it was necessary for the Americans and British to trust the legal systems of nations not known for their goodwill toward Jews: “It would have been impossible, not just impractical, to do anything else” because of the costs and legal and logistical complexities of running a claims clearinghouse for all of Western Europe, said Thomas Kline, an art-restitution lawyer in Washington who represented Nick and Simon Goodman in their first important recovery case.

Rose Valland, a French curator on whom Cate Blanchett’s character in “The Monuments Men” is based, was Bernard Goodman’s chief angel, to the extent he found any. She had spied on the Nazis as they hoarded looted Jewish art from across the Continent at the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris.

After the Allies reached Paris in 1944, she guided the Monuments Men in their searches. Simon and Nick Goodman saw from their father’s records that Valland or her associate, Albert Henraux, personally had transferred three paintings to Bernard Goodman and his sister, who’s now 94 and living in Italy.

Initially working from a list of their parents’ major paintings they had compiled from memory, brother and sister also filed claims with the Dutch government. That bore some fruit, but Simon and Nick Goodman’s later research showed that authorities held back about half of the Gutmann holdings the Monuments Men had sent to Holland.

Even the restitution Bernard Goodman received leaves a bad taste for Simon: He said the Dutch government insisted that his father pay off the mortgage and taxes on the family estate — debts accrued after 1943, when the Nazis arrested his grandparents, sent them to Theresienstadt and expropriated their home. Fritz Gutmann was beaten to death, after which his wife was transferred to Auschwitz and gassed.

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