The FBI returned Monday a picture of the 380-year-old Dutch painter Salomon Koninck to its rightful owners, a Jewish French family, 75 years after it was stolen by the Nazis during the invasion of France in World War II.
The work, "A Scholar Sharpening His Quill", painted by Koninck in 1639, was delivered to the Schlosss in a ceremony that took place at the French Consulate in New York, attended by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Drian.
"Stolen in our territory by the Gestapo and transferred to Munich with the complicity of French collaborators in 1943, we had lost their trail," explained Le Drian, who was accompanied by the District Attorney of the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, and a representative of the FBI criminal investigation office in Washington, Michael Driscoll.
"He is finally meeting his new owners again, the heirs of Adolphe Schloss (a collector of French art) and his five children," the minister added.
Present at the ceremony were the great-grandchildren of Schloss, Laurent and Michel Vernay, as well as his daughter-in-law, Eliane Demartini, who described the return of the work as a "small victory" and recalled that there are still many pieces of art that were stolen and not have been found
The representative of the French administration stressed that his country continues with its efforts to accelerate the identification and restitution of works stolen during the Hitler regime, and noted that more than two thirds of the 100,000 pieces usurped by the Nazis were found shortly after the end of the conflict.
The rest, he said, have not been found, but France "has never surrendered in its search."
"Some will have been destroyed, but it happens, over time, that the works that were hidden by the thieves reappear in the market, as happened with the work of Koninck," said the French minister.
"A Scholar Sharpening His Quill" was found in 2017, when its then owner, the Chilean Renate Stein, contacted the auction house Christie's with the intention of selling it in New York after her family acquired it in Germany. the 50s
Drian also wanted to underline in his speech the rise of anti-Semitism today and listed the efforts of his government to end it, while denouncing the lack of US action.
"Something similar (to France) must be done in US territory, where too much nostalgia for Nazism hides behind the First Amendment (freedom of expression) to unleash the propaganda of hatred," he said.
For his part, the prosecutor of the Southern District of New York noted that what happened with the pillaging of works of art in the hands of Jews during the Second World War "was not only unfair, but inhuman."
"We have a moral imperative to act, which is what we are doing now and we will continue to do," he added.
For his part, the representative of the FBI explained the arduous investigations that have to be carried out in this type of cases to demonstrate the origin of the work, and stressed the vital importance of the collaboration of auction houses when identifying and report stolen pieces.