MANHATTAN (CN) - A pair of Egon Schiele paintings expected to fetch $5 million at auction are the rightful property of a Nazi concentration camp victim, the man's heirs claim in court. Timothy Reif and David Fraenkel filed the complaint Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court, as the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum, a Viennese Jew nabbed by the Gestapo in 1938. The Nazis sent Grunbaum to the Dachau concentration camp and killed him in 1941.
Reif and Fraenkel say Grunbaum, a Jewish cabaret performer, was forced to let his wife, Elisabeth, liquidate his assets and turn over all his works to the Third Reich, which included 81 paintings that were ultimately sold at auction for $6,000.
Grunbaum's wife ended up at the Maly Trostinec death camp in Minsk, Russia, but survived. She died in August 2013.
Grunbaum's collection meanwhile ended up in the Doreotheum, a Nazi-controlled auction house in Vienna, "which was used by the Nazi regime to sell art plundered from Jews and turn the proceeds over to the Nazi Reich," according to the complaint.
Reif and Fraenkel say a reporter with The Art Newspaper uncovered two Egon Schiele paintings from Grunbaum's collection, "Woman in a Black Pinafore" and "Woman Hiding Her Face," earlier this month.
The paintings wound up in the hands of British art dealer Richard Nagy, who is now putting them up for auction at the Salon Arty + Design Show at the Park Avenue Armory on Manhattan's Upper West Side, according to the complaint.
The paintings are expected to fetch at least $5 million.
In 1938, "the Nazi regime declared all Jewish property in excess of 5,000 Reichmarks ... to be available to the Nazi Reich" to "build the Nazi war machine," the 13-page lawsuit states.
Reif and Fraenkel say Nazis also required all Jews to "declare their assets quarterly until the assets were gone or until the Jews left the Reich."
In their bid to reclaim the the paintings, the heirs are represented by Raymond Dowd with Dunnington Bartholow & Miller.