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  • George Clooney stars in ‘Monuments Men, as an expert assigned by the Army in World War II to recover art stolen by the Nazis. Ownership is still in contention today. (Photo: Columbia Pictures/Claudette Barius)

    Ludwig and Margret Kainer were avid art collectors in Germany until the rise of the Nazi regime in the 1930s. They were also Jews and fled for their lives after Hitler came to power.

    The vast art collection, however, stayed behind.

    The collected works are said to number in the hundreds, including works by Monet, Degas and Renoir.

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    They became part of the vast horde of precious artworks and other assets seized by the Nazis during the war. Allied efforts to recover the treasures were portrayed in the film “Monuments Men.”

    But ownership of the art is still in contention to this day, while other works are still being discovered. The plight of the Kainer heirs is a case in point.

    After Victory in Europe in 1945, the Kainer family was scattered; many family members had died in the Holocaust, But as their artworks were recovered a Swiss bank, not Kainer heirs, was the beneficiary.

    In fact, heirs to the Kainer’s charge in court papers filed in federal court in Manhattan that they were not even aware of a foundation set up by the bank in the name of Norbert Levy, the father of Margaret Kainer, who was the beneficiary.

    Over the years, the foundation has been collecting the proceeds from the sale of Krainer assets recovered from the Nazis. The heirs also charge that UBS AG, which manages the trust, never made a serious effort to contact any family survivors.

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    The are also seeking an accounting of the foundation’s assets, including restitution from the German government. The also want to know the fate of the other pieces of the Krainer’s vast estate.

    Hitler, Hermann Goering and other Nazi officers examine stolen art during World War II (U.S. Army)

    In 2009, for example, Christie’s sold an Degas work titled “Danseuses” for almost $11 million, the Times reported. The sale catalog even noted that the sale was part of a restitution agreement with the “heirs of Ludwig and Margret Kainer.”

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    The Krainer heirs have had to file suit in New York City as well as in Switzerland and pursue claims in Germany as well, according to The New York Times.

    But surviving family members claim in court papers they were never informed of the sale, or did they know the work was going up for auction.

    The proceeds went to the foundation Family members claim the set up is a “sham” to cash in on the Krainer’s fortune.

    UBS is refusing to comment, but claims in court papers all of its actions were appropriate, The Times reports.

    Contested art: Danseuses by Degas

    Their case highlights the extreme difficultly Holocaust survivors have encountered trying to recover assets seized from Jews by the German government during World War II.

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    In November a year ago, IM reported that authorities discovered a vast horde of looted art stolen during the war by Hildebrand Gurlitt a specialist in modern art.

    Gurlitt was hired by feared Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to fence priceless artworks stolen from homes and museums across Nazi-occupied Europe. He kept a stash for himself that included more than 80 masterpieceThey were discovered in a shabby Munich apartment occupied by Gurlitt’s only son, Cornelius.

    In March a year ago, heirs to another wealthy Jewish art collector, Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy sued to recover works from his extensive collection that he was forced to sell under Nazi persecution.

    His holdings included an iconic Picasso painting known as “Madame Soler.”

    The Kainer’s, like other Holocaust survivors, claim that they have been stonewalled by institutions like UBS when they’ve inquired about stolen assets.

    For more on the story check out The Times, and be sure to follow NYI @nyi_news on Twitter for the latest updates on the case.