Decision due on battle over Klimt Frieze

A decision is due later today on the fate of a prominent Austrian work of art that was seized from a Jewish collector by the Nazis.

Decision due on battle over Klimt Frieze
The Beethoven Frieze. Photo: ROLAND SCHLAGER/EPA

The heirs of Erich Lederer, who escaped to Switzerland, want Gustav Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze returned to the family.

The 1902 work is an experimental series of frescoes, which is 34 metres long and weighs four tonnes. It depicts an existential struggle for happiness, and is a homage to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

It was criticized in the early 20th century for its strong eroticism, as it features floating female figures depicting wantonness and lasciviousness. 

Since 1986 it has been on display at the avant garde Vienna Secession building – and is a huge draw for tourists and art lovers.

After WWII Lederer spent decades fighting Austrian officials for the right to take the Frieze to his home in Switzerland.

He gave up in 1973 and accepted $750,000 for the Frieze – though its assessed value was around $2 million.

The challenge by Lederer’s heirs is based on a 2009 change to Austria's art restitution law to cover cases in which the disputed art is sold for less than its value.

The Secession museum has said Lederer sold the frieze for a price “voluntarily negotiated by him and considered by him to be reasonable”.

Austrian officials have been forced to return a dozen stolen Klimt masterpieces since the 1990s.

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Austrian rapper arrested over neo-Nazi songs

Austrian authorities said Tuesday they have arrested a rapper accused of broadcasting neo-Nazi songs, one of which was used by the man behind a deadly anti-Semitic attack in Germany.

Austrian rapper arrested over neo-Nazi songs
Austrian police officers patrol at the house where Adolf Hitler was born during the anti-Nazi protest in Braunau Am Inn, Austria on April 18, 2015. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

“The suspect has been arrested on orders of the Vienna prosecutors” and transferred to prison after a search of his home, said an interior ministry statement.

Police seized a mixing desk, hard discs, weapons, a military flag from the Third Reich era and other Nazi objects during their search.

Austrian intelligence officers had been trying for months to unmask the rapper, who went by the pseudonym Mr Bond and had been posting to neo-Nazi forums since 2016.

The suspect, who comes from the southern region of Carinthia, has been detained for allegedly producing and broadcasting Nazi ideas and incitement to hatred.

“The words of his songs glorify National Socialism (Nazism) and are anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic,” said the interior ministry statement.

One of his tracks was used as the sound track during the October 2019 attack outside a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle.

In posts to online forums based in the United States, the rapper compared the man behind the 2019 Christchurch shootings that killed 51 people at a New Zealand mosque to a saint, and translated his racist manifesto into German.

Last September, an investigation by Austrian daily Der Standard and Germany's public broadcaster ARD said that the musician had been calling on members of neo-Nazi online forums and chat groups to carry out terrorist attacks for several years.

They also reported that his music was used as the soundtrack to the live-streamed attack in Halle, when a man shot dead two people after a failed attempt to storm the synagogue.

During his trial last year for the attack, 28-year-old Stephan Balliet said he had picked the music as a “commentary on the act”. In December, a German court jailed him for life.

“The fight against far-right extremism is our historical responsibility,” Austria's Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said Tuesday.

Promoting Nazi ideology is a criminal offence in Austria, which was the birth place of Adolph Hitler.