BERLIN — Several German cultural institutions and the American heirs of a German-Jewish family on Wednesday presented the first results of their joint efforts to restitute a vast art collection stolen by the Nazis.
Berlin's state museums found in their collections nine artworks the Nazis took from the family of Berlin newspaper publisher Rudolf Mosse, and returned them to Mosse's heirs. The museums have since bought three of the pieces, including the marble sculpture "Susanna" by artist Reinhold Begas.
The other two works sold to the state museums are a Roman child sarcophagus and a sculpture of a reclining lioness by August Gaul.
Other German museums and research institutions are involved in the huge effort to identify and return over 1,000 pieces of art that are believed to have been stolen from Mosse's family, a project called the Mosse Art Research Initiative.
"So far, we have begun research on 115 works, and have uncovered reliable information on 68 of them," project coordinator Meike Hoffmann said.
A representative of Mosse's heirs, Roger Strauch, told reporters in Berlin that the joint project was unique because of the cooperation of all the institutions involved.
"The project does not aim to cast blame," Strauch said. "Rather, we are committed to returning property to their rightful heirs, as well as being sensitive to the inevitable awkwardness involved in this process."
In other restitution cases, claims by heirs to property taken from or sold by relatives under duress during World War II sometimes have led to conflicts.
The current owners — usually museums or private collectors — have resisted returning valuable items if they don't think the proof of a family's prior ownership or Nazi involvement is strong enough to hand over the disputed pieces.
Born in 1843, Mosse was part of the Jewish community that enjoyed success in Germany before the rise of the Nazis. He was the publisher of the liberal daily Berliner Tageblatt and several other newspapers, and also owned about 130 trade magazines.
Mosse's adopted daughter Felicia inherited a collection comprising thousands of paintings, sculptures, books, antiquities and furniture when her father died in 1920. Mosse's favorite artists included Max Liebermann, Oswald Achenbach, Franz Lenbach and Adolph Menzel.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the family was forced to flee and their property was confiscated.
Berlin's Free University, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the German Lost Art Foundation and several art museums are contributing to the restitution project by sharing research expertise.
Project coordinator Hoffman said the results will be published on an online portal of the Free University.