Lost art work stolen by the Nazis reclaimed by British charity

Video report by ITV News London Reporter Sam Holder

A British charity has finally received an art collection worth hundreds and thousands of pounds decades after it was stolen from a Jewish refugee by the Nazis.

Before her death in 1976, Irma Löwenstein Austin's desperately attempted to recover her family’s stolen art collection after it was seized from her Vienna apartment in the 1930s. 

Fleeing Nazi persecution, Ms Austin emigrated to the UK in 1938 with her first husband Oscar, who died shortly after they arrived.

For nearly 40 years, her attempts to reclaim the stolen artworks were frequently frustrated - even a direct appeal to the foreign office for help did not yield a result. 

But her meticulous records and research meant that more than 80 years after the artwork was stolen by the Nazis, the three valuable paintings have been returned by Germany to their rightful heir - British charity Vision Foundation. 

Vision Foundation’s head of communications, Mark Ellis told ITV News London: “People were jumping around, they were so excited that this had come to fruition.

The paintings hanging in Irma Austin's living room in Vienna. Credit: ITV News London

"So the difference it’s made, you can’t put it into words. It’s an enormous amount of money, it’s going to help us continue the work that we do for blind and partially sighted people in London. It’s making a difference, after all this time, it’s just so incredible.”

It couldn’t have come at a better time for the charity that was facing an uncertain time amid the pandemic.

Two of the paintings have already been sold, while a third is up for auction.

In total they should raise £500,000 for the charity.

Ms Austin had no surviving family, but ITV News London reporter Sam Holder tracked down a friend and former tenant, David Mills who played a crucial role in this story.

“Irma would have been delighted, and so pleased that her wonderful pictures have found a home with the Vision Foundations," Mr Mills said.