Charles Goldstein Dies at 78; Sought Return of Art Looted by Nazis

Charles Goldstein at his office in Manhattan in 1985. Credit Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Charles Goldstein at his office in Manhattan in 1985. Credit Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Charles Goldstein, a high-stakes New York real estate lawyer who transformed himself into a tenacious advocate for recovering art looted from Holocaust victims, died on July 30 in Manhattan. He was 78.

The cause was complications of an infection, his daughter, Deborah David, said.

Mr. Goldstein, a lawyer with the firm Herrick, Feinstein, was counsel to theCommission for Art Recovery, which estimates that it has recovered or helped recover more than $160 million worth of stolen art since it was established in 1997 by Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress. The commission is also affiliated with the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

“Charles Goldstein was the unsung hero of art restitution,” Mr. Lauder said this week.

The commission’s goal is to compel European governments to identify and return art that the Nazis looted from public and private collections or that the owners were forced to sell. That includes spoils of war confiscated from the Nazis by the victors, including the Soviet Union.

The commission supported the recovery of Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer,” the painting that an Austrian refugee had successfully sued in United States courts to recover from Austria. (Austrian arbiters ruled in her favor in 2006. Mr. Lauder bought the portrait for $135 million for the Neue Galerie in New York; the legal battle was dramatized in the film “Woman in Gold,” released in April and starring Helen Mirren.)

The commission was also involved in negotiations for the return of Gustave Courbet’s “Femme Nue Couchee” (“Reclining Nude”), which was stolen in 1944 from Baron French Hatvany in Budapest.

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