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7 artworks by Egon Schiele are returned to heirs of the owner killed by Nazis

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In New York City on Wednesday, seven works of art stolen by the Nazis were returned to heirs of a previous owner who died in a concentration camp. The pieces are by Austrian artist Egon Schiele, and they were given back by various museums and private collectors after a decadeslong legal battle. Here's NPR's Jasmine Garsd.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: The original owner of the Schiele pieces was Fritz Grunbaum, the son of a Jewish art dealer. Fritz was a cabaret artist who performed in Vienna and Berlin. He was outspoken against the Nazis. As a result, he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp in 1941. His wife was coerced by the Nazis into handing over his art collection before being sent to a death camp.

JENNIFER KREDER: We have a doctrine in the United States that you can't get title from a thief.

GARSD: That's attorney Jennifer Kreder. She's been involved in several art theft cases. She says U.S. property and military law address situations like these.

KREDER: 1959 military government law was in place and said that no transactions forced by the Nazis to transfer property from Jews to non-Jews is going to be regarded as legitimate.

GARSD: Both the Grunbaum ultimately died in Nazi death camps. Their Schiele pieces resurfaced in the 1950s. A Swiss dealer sold them to an American dealer, who sold them to several collectors as well as museums. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg spearheaded this case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALVIN BRAGG: Despite the horrors, the tragedy, the destruction caused by the Nazis, it is never too late to teach the world about incredible people like Mr. Grunbaum.

GARSD: There are other Schiele works whose ownership is being contested. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office recently issued warrants to several museums and schools, including the Art Institute of Chicago. All institutions say they acquired their Egon Schiele artworks legally.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.