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May 12, 2014

Family lobbies Oklahomans to return looted art

OKLAHOMA CITY —

The son of an aging Holocaust survivor pleaded with legislators Monday to encourage the University of Oklahoma to return a piece of art that he and his mother claim was stolen by the Nazis during the invasion of Paris.

Leone Meyer, whose entire family was killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp when she was a young girl, has sued OU for the return of Camille Pissarro’s 1886 oil painting, "Shepherdess Bringing In Sheep," also known as “La Bergere,” valued at more than $1 million.

The painting was one of 33 donated to OU from the private collection of Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer following her death from cancer in 2000. It hung on a wall of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art for more than a decade before Meyer’s family realized it was there and asked for its return in December 2012.

Failing health prevented Meyer, who is in her 70s, from attending the hearing at the State Capitol. Meyer, who was adopted after World War II by Raoul Meyer and Yvonne Bader, now lives in Paris. Her adult son, Raphael, spoke on her behalf.

In 1940, Raoul Meyer attempted to safeguard a considerable collection of paintings at a bank. But the Nazis seized the bank in 1941 and stole the collection — including “La Bergere.”

The Meyer family has since recovered most of the collection. Raphael Meyer described the family's hunt for five or so remaining pieces of art stolen by the Nazis. They were at first excited to discover through an online search that one of the paintings was at OU, he said, then dismayed when the university would not return it.

In May 2013, the family sued in a federal court in New York seeking the painting's return. Raphael Meyer said all his mother wants is the painting back.

In a written statement following Monday’s hearing, the university noted that while the painting is displayed by the museum, it actually belongs to the OU Foundation, as do most private gifts to the university.

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