Shadow of Holocaust hangs over museums’ fight for paintings
BY MARK STRYKER
Detroit Free Press

DETROIT – On Dec. 14, 1938, a German-born Jew living in Paris named Martha Nathan sold two of her most valuable paintings, van Gogh’s “The Diggers” and Paul Gauguin’s “Street Scene in Tahiti,” to three Jewish art dealers in Paris. Nathan received the equivalent of $9,364 for the van Gogh and $6,865 for the Gauguin.

Nearly 70 years later, the circumstances surrounding that sale – how and why Nathan sold her paintings and the price she received – are at the core of federal lawsuits brought by the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Toledo Museum of Art against 15 distant Nathan heirs living in Europe, Australia and America. The museums sued in January after failing to resolve a festering ownership dispute dating to May 2004. The museums want the court to affirm their legal title to the paintings.

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