NORMAN, Okla. – An Oklahoma Representative has written a resolution urging the University of Oklahoma’s President to return Nazi loot to its rightful owner, Leone Meyer. hanging in the Fred Jones Museum.
Meyer has government documentation confirming Nazis stole the art from her family during WWII.
Leone Meyer is 74-years-old. She lives in France and doesn’t speak any English. So her attorney, Pierre Ciric, spoke with News Channel 4 for her.
“It’s obviously a very personal and painful journey,” said Ciric.
The journey to get the painting back from OU.
“It’s sadness. It’s trying to find justice,” said Citic. “It’s a lot of pain into the fact that on the biological side your going into the loss of a whole family.”
He’s talking about Meyer’s biological family. They were all murdered during the Holocaust.
“She escaped. She was at the time four, and her whole family disappeared in Aushwitz. They were all murdered,” said Ciric.
She was an orphan, but Meyer says another family adopted her, the Meyers. They too were victims of the Nazis. They hid in order to avoid concentration camps, but Germans stole all their belongings, included the precious Camille Pisarro painting, Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep.
“The conjunction of the two makes this very adamant and passionate personal goal to get the art,” said Ciric.
She wants justice for both her biological and adoptive parents.
In the 1940s, her adopted father, Raoul Meyer, hid his paintings in a French bank vault. Nazis broke in and gathered the goods. When Raoul Meyer returned home, he notified the government about the items that Nazis stole.
“That went into a massive registry that the French government dessimented around the world in 1947 to notify countries that these were all of the art works looted,” said Ciric.
In the Registry of Looted Assets, the painting, Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep, is listed as Nazi plunder that once belonged to the Meyer family.
Museums around the world are familiar with the list, which makes ownership obvious.
“It’s very clear what the painting is. It’s very clear who the owner was in 1941,” said Ciric. “There is absolutely no debate on this.”
Ciric says, the lawsuit isn’t about whether the art is Meyer’s. OU is fighting technical issues, such as jurisdiction.
So why won’t OU just give it back?
OU President David Boren wouldn’t talk on camera but wrote to News Channel Four saying, “…the challenge to the University, as the current custodian of the painting, is to avoid setting a bad precedent that the University will automatically give away other people’s gifts to us to anyone who claims them.”
Not a satisfying answer to Representative Mike Reynolds, (R) District 19. He wrote the Resolution urging Boren to return the artwork to Meyer.
“If President Boren decides that this is too difficult of a decision for him, we would encourage him then to do a complete inventory of all the art at the University of Oklahoma,” said Rep. Reynolds. “because if he’s not concerned about this piece, I’m kind of wondering if he’s concerned about other possible stolen pieces.”
Court documents accuse OU of never researching the background of at least 20 other paintings that were donated along with the Pissarro piece.
The university obtained the artwork through the Weitzenhoffer family. After the war, the painting went to a dealer in the Netherlands. Then to an art dealer in New York. That’s where Clara Weitzenhoffer bought the painting. She brought it back to her home in Oklahoma. In 2000, the Weitzenhoffers donated their entire collection to OU’s campus museum.
“So I think we’d want to see the background on all the art they’ve obtained,” said Rep. Reynolds.
Rep. Reynolds says it’s possible legislators could draft a bill requiring OU to research their artwork by law.
As News Channel Four reported previously, people and lawmakers alike have stepped up in support of Meyer. They have started petitions to urge President Boren to return the art.
It’s a movement Ciric has never experienced before in cases like this.
He says Meyer is stunned by the petitions and actions of Oklahomans. “I think she feels very thankful and almost, I think the better word for it is grateful in English, for the people to understand her plea,” said Ciric. “I think it speaks to the gut of the people in Oklahoma.”