Meyerheim painting restituted to heirs of Holocaust victim

The Art Loss Register is pleased to announce the restitution of a painting by Wilhelm Alexander
Meyerheim titled Danzig Harbour to the heir of Gisela Thomas. The painting was registered with the
ALR in 2000 by Gisela who had fled from Nazi-Germany in 1939 after being persecuted as Jewish.

The restituted painting – Wilhelm Alexander Meyerheim’s ‘Danzig Harbour’

The ALR was able to identify the painting in an upcoming auction in England thanks to a photograph
taken in Berlin before Gisela was forced to flee the country. The image quality is remarkable for a
historical document as Ms Thomas’ mother had the work professionally photographed.

Gisela Freiberg was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1924. She lived with her parents and sister in an
elegantly furnished flat at Solinger Strasse 4, in Berlin Tiergarten. Due to their Jewish background,
the family was persecuted by the Nazis from 1933 onwards. Gisela’s father passed away in Berlin in
1936. Three years later, Gisela, together with her mother Ruda Regina and sister Herta, was one of
more than 900 Jewish refugees who sailed from Hamburg on the MS St Louis, bound for Cuba or the
USA. There are even photographs of the Freiberg family on board the St Louis, hopeful to find a
haven and not realising they were going to become part of a tragedy now often referred to as “the
voyage of the damned”.

Cuba, the United States and Canada refused to let the refugees disembark which led eventually to a
return of many passengers to continental Europe and Nazi persecution. Gisela, her mother, and
sister were fortunate enough to land in the UK. In recent years, the governments of the US and
Canada have formally apologized for their role in the fate of the ship’s passengers.

Like all passengers of the St Louis, the Freibergs were only allowed minimal luggage on the ship.
They had to leave behind the flat in Berlin with all its content, including the painting. Gisela’s mother
had asked a professional photographer to take pictures of the works they had to leave behind. It is
unclear what happened to the contents of the flat after the family had been forced to abandon it. It
seems likely that the contents and flat were, like many other flats of Jewish owners, seized by the
Nazi government. The works were not returned to the Freiberg family after 1945.

Sadly, Gisela passed away in 2015 and was followed by her husband Gordon in 2020. Gisela’s sister
Herta Freiberg passed away before Gisela and had no descendants. Therefore, the painting has now
been reunited with Gisela’s sole heir. We hope the painting serves as a loving reminder of the
Frieberg family and their remarkable story. The ALR would like to thank Bonhams and their
consignor for their vital role in returning the painting.

Amelie Ebbinghaus, Director of the Restitution Department at the ALR, states “the story of Gisela’s
escape and of the St Louis is so tragic that it is particularly gratifying to assist in restoring something
to her family. That Gisela’s mother had such good photos taken before they escaped is nothing short
of remarkable and without her foresight, identifying the work today would have been near
impossible. We are very grateful to the consignor of the work who immediately recognised the
importance of the painting to the family and so generously agreed to its return.”

The painting in the living room of the Freiberg family.