A tragic history
Israel's national museum exhibits paintings plundered in World War Two France.
Israel's national museum opened two new exhibits Monday of paintings with a tragic history: They were stolen from museums and salons by the Nazis and never reclaimed because many of the rightful owners perished during World War II.
The exhibits, which include paintings by masters like Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Georges Seurat, are meant to bring to life the dramatic stories behind the art.
Israel says visitors who recognize a painting as their own and can prove it can file a claim.
"Our feeling about them is that our job is to hold them in custody, in a way, as a kind of memorial to their loss, and when the opportunity arises to return a work we are happy to do so," said James Snyder, the Israel Museum's director.
But experts say, worldwide, anywhere between 250,000 and 600,000 pieces of art looted by the Nazis were never claimed and remain in the possession of museums, governments and private collectors.
Last year, an Israeli group in charge of returning the property of Holocaust survivors accused the Israel Museum of not being forthcoming enough about the looted art in its possession, and not doing enough to return the art to its owners.
The museum rejected the criticism, saying that as a national institution of the Jewish state, it was a fitting place for the art. Since then, the institution has launched an Internet database of all of the looted art in its storerooms.
Over the years, the museum has returned about 20 pieces to owners or heirs, Snyder said.
The new exhibits contain about 80 pieces.
The exhibited paintings were among thousands stolen in France or forcibly sold there during the Nazi occupation.
In all, around 100,000 works of art were either plundered or forcibly sold during World War II, the French culture ministry says.
Following the war 60,000 were repatriated and, of those, 45,000 returned to their owners. Another 13,000 pieces of lesser value were sold, leaving 2,000 still to be dealt with.
Israeli lawyer jailed for defrauding Holocaust survivors
Meanwhile, in a separate incident, a Tel Aviv court on Tuesday sentenced an Israeli lawyer to 12 years in prison after finding him guilty of defrauding dozens of Holocaust survivors of German compensation money.
The court also fined Yisrael Perry 5.5 million dollars (3.5 million euros) over a string of charges, including stealing the equivalent of about 200 million dollars from survivors of Nazi concentration camps.
Perry had created an association purported to help Holocaust survivors obtain pension rights from West Germany's social insurance institute in the early 1990s, the judge wrote in his ruling.
Perry embezzled millions in premiums his clients thought were being passed on to insurance companies.
Dozens of Holocaust survivors and their descendents fell victim to the scam.
"Perry committed a sin and acted unlawfully, to say the least, and hurt other people. He tricked, cheated and committed severe crimes for years," judge Zeharya Kaspi wrote.
Israel and West Germany signed an agreement in 1952 under which Israel and survivors of Nazi camps and persecution receive billions in reparations.
In the 1990s, tens of thousands of Jewish survivors sued Germany and other European countries for Holocaust-era insurance claims.