"Winter" by Gari Melchers was once part of Rudolf Mosse's extensive art collection, which was seized after the Nazis came to power

Winter painting
"Winter" painting
| Credit: Michael Hill/AP/Shutterstock

A painting once seized by the Nazis from a prominent Jewish family in Berlin has been returned to its rightful owners nearly nine decades later, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

“Winter” by Gari Melchers was once part of the prized art collection by Rudolf Mosse, a German publisher and philanthropist whose family operated a series of newspapers — some of which criticized the Nazi party.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Mosse family was forced to flee Germany — and shortly after, the Nazis seized their assets, including the art collection.

“Winter” had spent many years at a museum in upstate New York, and was returned to the Mosse family on Thursday after it was recovered by the FBI in September 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York said in a statement.

“We can never ease the horrors of Nazi Germany from history, but we can, and should, take every opportunity to deliver any justice we can including the return of property to rightful heirs,” acting U.S. Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon said in a statement. “The Department of Justice will continue to do just that.”

Rudolf Mosse was an entrepreneur and philanthropist whose extensive newspaper enterprise was handed down to his daughter, Felicia Lachmann-Mosse, and her husband Hans, upon his death in 1920, according to the Mosse Art Restitution Project and the Associated Press.

Winter painting
"Winter" painting
| Credit: Michael Hill/AP/Shutterstock

One newspaper in particular, Berliner Tageblatt, was an “outspoken critic” of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party, which caused the Mosse family to become a symbol of the “hated ‘Jewish press,’” the project’s website said.

So when Hitler came to power, the paper’s publisher and many of its staffers fled the country, leaving the Nazi government to take control of Mosse family property.

The statement said that “Winter” switched hands several times after it was stolen by the Nazis, but was eventually bought in 1934 by Bartlett Arkell, the cofounder and president of Imperial Packing Company, later the Beech-Nut Packing Company.

The painting eventually made its way to the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, New York, which is where it was recovered last year.

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It came back onto the Mosse family’s radar in January 2017, when the Arkell Museum featured it in a Facebook post about the upcoming winter season, according to the Associated Press.

A student working with Dr. Meike Hoffmann of the Free University of Berlin saw the post, and with the help of the museum’s executive director, was able to link it back to the family.

Hoffman is head of the Mosse Art Research Institute, a collaboration involving Mosse heirs and German public cultural institutions, the AP reported.

There is no evidence that Arkell was aware that “Winter” had been taken unlawfully, but the museum relinquished all rights to the painting, the statement said, and it was returned to the Mosse Foundation, which works to recover the works of art stolen from the family by the Nazis.

The painting is expected to fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at an upcoming Sotheby’s auction, Roger Strauch, president of the Mosse Foundation and step-great-grandson of Rudolf, told the AP.

The FBI said that there are still countless works of art taken by Nazis that have not been recovered, and the agency urges anyone with information to contact the FBI’s art crime team at NYArtCrime@fbi.gov.