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Thursday, June 3, 1999 Published at 05:31 GMT 06:31 UK


Briton awaits Nazi art ruling

The Berlin memorial to Jewish Holocaust victims

A Van Gogh sketch allegedly stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust could be the first such art treasure to be returned to its rightful British owner, it has been reported.

Gerta Silberberg, 85, from the East Midlands, will become the first Briton able to reclaim her family's art from German museums if a landmark ruling goes through on Thursday, says The Times.

The newspaper says Professor Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, president of the Foundation for Prussian Cultural Heritage - the umbrella group for German museums - is to ask for authorisation to return the stolen works of art to survivors of the Holocaust and their families.

This would bypass drawn-out legal proceedings. Professor Lehmann has apparently said he will grant Mrs Silberberg's claim on the Van Gogh sketch, L'Olivette, currently in Berlin's National Gallery and worth more than £3m.

'Jew auctions'

The Times reports that Mrs Silberberg's father-in-law, Max Silberberg, was forced to sell the drawing among 143 of his pictures - worth an estimated £20m at today's prices.

Such sales, called "Jew auctions", were common between 1933 and 1938.

His collection reportedly included works by Cezanne, Manet, Renoir, Delacroix, Degas and Matisse.

He was later sent to a concentration camp and died in the Holocaust. Mrs Silberberg escaped with her husband Alfred to Britain from Breslau in 1937.

Her German lawyer, Dr Jost von Trott zu Solz, confirmed that a Cezanne in St Petersburg, Russia, and a Pissarro in a private collection in America could also become involved, the newspaper adds.

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