Lives Lost: Holocaust survivor reclaimed Nazi-looted artwork
TEL AVIV, Israel — With the Nazis murdering Jews and ransacking their property outside on the infamous nights of Kristallnacht in 1938, 13-year-old David Toren sat in the sunroom of his wealthy great-uncle in Germany admiring a favorite painting depicting two men on horseback on a beach.
Within a year, Toren would be smuggled out in one of the final Kindertransports, a series of rescues for Jewish children organized by several European countries. Left behind, his family would perish in the death camps and their vast art collection would be seized by Nazis and later traded by unscrupulous dealers.
Toren would serve in the Israeli pre-state militia before moving to America with less than $100 to his name. He went on to build a successful law practice with an office on the 54th floor of the World Trade Center. Many of the early-life possessions he kept there were destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, carried out before he arrived to work that day.
But even as a degenerative eye condition robbed him of his sight later in life, the images of his past never escaped him, and he embarked on a quest to reclaim some of what was lost. He sued the government of Germany for his great-uncle’s collection and in 2015, after a lengthy saga, recovered the Max Liebermann work “Two Riders on the Beach” that so moved him in his youth.
“He regarded it as justice and felt very strongly about it,” said his son, Peter Toren. “The art is something that was taken from his family and it was something there was a possibility of getting back. He couldn’t get back all the lives that were exterminated.”
Toren died on April 19 in his Manhattan home from symptoms of the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2, which causes severe respiratory illness COVID-19. He was 94. He left behind his son Peter and two grandchildren.
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