Art looting during the Third Reich has taken place in very different ways. The extent of coercion, which was exposed to the former art owners, not always appears equally strong. Without any doubt are the cases in which an expropriation has occurred, when artworks were obviously stolen by the Nazis (often verifiable through archive footage). But there are also “lighter” forms of lost art works due to persecution which are – especially in retrospect – not easy to judge.
That is why the Jewish merchant Gustav Gerst failed in 1946 with his restitution request to the Allies. Gerst was shareholder of H. & C. Tietz and had led the branch in Frankfurt am Main. Thus – and certainly by his wife Ella, née Tietz – Gustav Gerst came to prosperity and possessed not only land in Frankfurt (his house was in the Niederräder Landstr. 10), but also in Bamberg. Gerst was considered a major sponsor for the Construction of the Goethe tower in Frankfurt, which he supported with 28,000 Reichsmarks. In 1933 his assets amounted to 18,185,000 M – according to his lawyer, who supported him after the war in his restitution claim. Because of his Jewish descent living and working in Germany became difficult for him after 1933. His position and shares in Tietz he lost, and since October 1935, he gave his art collection to the Frankfurt art dealer Julius Hahn for sale. Most of the works in his collection, however, were rejected by the Frankfurt art dealers as inferior. Only one Liebermann painting that Gerst had acquired for 8,000 marks in 1919, was sold for 800 marks. 1939 Gerst emigrated with his wife to Sweden (Gothenburg). After the war he claimed the return of his collection with the help of the Zurich law firm Fides, and named his most valuable works:
- Rubens “Rage of Achilles”, former belonging of the Karven-collection
- Liebermann “Monte Pincio”, bought 1919, dated 1912
- Reynolds “The Holy Family” (a smaller copy of it is now in National Gallery in London)
- Spitzweg “Return from the Wine Tavern”
- Lessing “Landscape”
The Allies interviewed said art dealer Julius Hahn, who remembered only the sale of Liebermann and who also stated that the art collection was not known to the Frankfurt museums – which should emphasize its low quality. Asked was also the removal company Delliehausen who confirmed that they had indeed brought goods from the Niederräder Landstrasse to a house in Keltenhofweg (also Frankfurt), but that this transport did not happen in the context of a confiscation, but on behalf of Gerst. The Allies therefore considered it proven that Gerst sold his art collection voluntarily without the involvement of Nazi laws, and refused the restitution request, especially as nothing was known about the whereabouts of the paintings (they were not stored in the Collecting Point). Disregarded was the fact that Gerst indeed sold his collection without being forced to immediately, but the sale would not have been necessary without the previous loss of his profession and his assets and the impending emigration. Additionally it seems that at least the Liebermann painting lost significantly in value, which certainly would not had been tolerated under regular circumstances.
The family emigrated from Gothenburg to the USA, where Gustav Gerst died 1946. Whether there were further attempts to claim the collection unfortunately can not be said. About the paintings little information is transmitted, so that an assignment is difficult. Only the Liebermann painting emerged probably 1992 during an auction at Kunstsalon Franke, Cologne (without indication of provenance). Unfortunately, after that the trace was lost.