Sylvie Sulitzer, 60, a delicatessen owner from the south of France and the only living heir of her grandfather, prominent art collector Alfred Weinberger, on Wednesday attended a ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, where she finally received from the US authorities Pierre Auguste Renoir’s “Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin” (Two Women in a Garden) stolen by the Nazis in 1941.
In December 1941, the Nazis broke into Weinberger’s bank vault where the art collector had stored his treasures before fleeing Paris. After the war, Weinberger dedicated his life to recovering his precious artworks, and registered claims with the French and German governments. In 1975, the stolen Renoir was sold at an art auction in Johannesburg, then, in 1977, in London. The disappointed Weinberger passed away in 1977.
The work popped up again in an auction in Zürich, in 1999. Finally, in 2013, when the painting had reached an auction run by Christie’s in New York City, the FBI was alerted by the auction house, and the owner agreed to surrender the stolen work to the authorities.
“I’m very thankful to be able to show my beloved family, wherever they are, that after all they’ve been through, there is justice,” Sylvie Sulitzer told Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman as he unveiled the 12-by-15-inch painting.
“Today, as we celebrate the just return of this painting to its rightful owner, we also remember the uniqueness of the Holocaust and reaffirm our commitment to ensure that the words ‘Never forget, never again’ never ring hollow,” Berman said.
The tearful Sulitzer confessed she was experiencing “great emotions,” adding, it was “very important for me as a human being, a Jewish person, that you have people who work for justice. It means a lot.”
Funny point: Sulitzer, who has already been paid restitution by the German and French governments for the stolen painting, says she will have to sell “Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin” to pay those two governments back.
Ironic point: Renoir was an anti-Semite who, during the Dreyfus affair, sided with those who believed that the Jewish Captain had committed treason.