“When I explained to him that it had belonged to a particularly brutal mass-murderer, and told him the story of what happened to my grandmother, it reduced this guy to tears,” Simon said. “He said, ‘I’ve heard enough, I don’t like the painting any more.’ He took it off his wall and helped me load it in my car.”
The brothers said the world has improved for Holocaust art-restitution seekers since the mid-’90s, when they began.
By the end of 1998, an international conference on Holocaust art had met in Washington, adopting a set of nonbinding principles in which governments — but not individual collectors or non-governmental museums — pledged to consider claims fairly instead of giving them the brush-off or concealing suspect works. More recently, some art museums have begun proactive measures, checking ownership histories of their holdings for red flags associated with art that changed hands during the Nazi era, and for potentially looted antiquities.
Institutions such as the Getty and the Norton Simon Museum still fight claims they consider flawed. But less rare, now, are instances such as an announcement made by Rutgers University three years ago that, without a lawsuit having been filed, it was returning a 1509 portrait by Hans Baldung Grien to the Goodmans. An art dealer had given the German painting to Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum in 1959.
“We are enormously proud to be able to make this right,” a university official said on its return to the brothers.
Besides continuing the hunt for stolen art, Simon Goodman is busy writing the final chapters of a book, tentatively called “Blood and Treasure,” that tells the story of what his family lost and what it has found.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about the satisfaction of the justice I’ve brought about. I was always tortured by how tortured my father was, the silence where we couldn’t talk. Now I have this feeling that my dad and my granddad are smiling down on me.”
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