Bernhard Altmann

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Altmann visiting Marc Chagall in Venice (1952): l.t.r.: Bernhard Altmann, Walter Reimann (driver of Bernhard Altmann), Marc Chagall, Hans Robert Pippal [de]

Bernhard Altmann (1888–1960) was an Austrian textile manufacturer whose business was Aryanized and whose family's art collection was looted by Nazis because of their Jewish origins.[1] He introduced cashmere wool to North America on a mass scale in 1947.[2][3][4][5][6][7]

Early life[edit]

Altmann was the son of Karoline Keile (Tischler) and Karl Chaskel Altmann.[8] His family was Jewish. He entered the textile trade in Vienna in 1915, and in 1919 founded his knitwear manufacturing business. His company grew to employ 1000 people by 1938 before the German Anschluss forced him to flee to London.[citation needed]

Nazi persecution and exile[edit]

When Austria joined Hitler's Third Reich in 1938, Altman's textile plant and properties in Vienna were confiscated (Aryanized) by the Nazis.[9] His brother Fritz Altmann – husband of Jewish refugee Maria Altmann, who made her living in America after the war selling Bernhard's cashmere sweaters – was taken prisoner by the Nazis and Bernhard was forced to sign over the business in return for Fritz's release from Dachau Concentration Camp.[10]

Altmann started a factory in Liverpool in 1938, which he had to abandon in 1939 as a result of The Blitz and the UK Enemy alien Act of 1939, in which all nationals of enemy countries had to withdraw from coastline cities in three days after the declaration of war. After Liverpool he immigrated to the United States, where he started a company in Fall River, Massachusetts. After two years he lost control of his assets. In 1941 Altmann moved to New York City, where he took a job at $50 a week.[citation needed]

Postwar Life in USA[edit]

The cashmere business started in North America in 1947 when Altmann added the cashmere fiber line; he subsequently opened a factory in Texas. By 1951 it was reported that one in every three cashmere sweaters sold in America came from Altmann's Texas mill.

Altmann also produced clothes in Shetland wool, vicuna and a lambswool/fur fibre blend called "Bernamere". A 1960s advertising tagline for the company ran: "The Legend of a Great Knitter."

Nazi-looted art[edit]

Altmann is the brother-in-law of Maria Altmann whose restitution claim for artworks looted by the Nazis went to the Supreme Court and was the subject of the film Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren,[11] and the father-in-law of painter and fashion designer Ruth Rogers-Altmann.[12]

Artworks seized from Bernhard Altmann by the Gestapo in 1938, were sold via the Dorotheum auction house[13] and ended up in Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna. Some artworks, like Klimt's "Portrait of a Lady" were restituted in 2004.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Collection: Bernhard Altmann Family Collection | The Center for Jewish History ArchivesSpace". Archived from the original on 22 October 2020. Retrieved 1 May 2021. He entered the Viennese textile business in 1915. In 1919 he established his first company, which expanded in Vienna itself as well as in other locations, among them Moscow, Paris and Liverpool. The company had grown to more than 1000 employees by the time it was "Aryanized" in 1938. Bernhard Altmann, who fled to Liverpool via Paris in 1938, supported several family members in escaping Vienna in 1938, among them his wife Nelly as well as his brothers Max with his wife and child, his brother Julius and his brother Fritz with his wife Maria.
  2. ^ "Vintage Fashion Guild : Label Resource : Altmann, Bernhard". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  3. ^ "Vintage 60s Bernhard Altmann Cashmere Sweater Cardigan Cream White from poppysvintageclothing on Ruby Lane". Ruby Lane. Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  4. ^ "Anne-Marie O'Connor on the extraordinary tale of Klimt's The Lady in Gold - Laurel Zuckerman's Paris Weblog". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  5. ^ "Burris & Schoenberg, LLP". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  6. ^ "Popular items for bernhard altmann". Etsy. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  7. ^ results, search (15 August 2012). The Accidental Caregiver: How I Met, Loved, and Lost Legendary Holocaust Refugee Maria Altmann. Bloch-Bauer Books – via Amazon.
  8. ^ Karoline Keile (Tischler) and Karl Chaskel Altmann
  9. ^ "Altmann v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 20 T.C. 236 | Casetext Search + Citator". Retrieved 1 May 2021. Petitioner lost his textile plant and the realty in Vienna in 1938 when it was confiscated under Nazi decree during the Anschluss. In 1945, the plant was looted at various times and machinery and merchandise was taken. In 1947, petitioner instituted legal proceedings before the Austrian Restitution Commission to have title to the plant restored.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ O'Connor, Anne Marie (2012). The lady in gold: the extraordinary tale of Gustav Klimt's masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1st ed.). New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-26564-7. OCLC 727702774.
  11. ^ The Accidental Caregiver: How I Met, Loved, and Lost Legendary Holocaust Refugee Maria Altmann. 15 August 2012.
  12. ^ "Guide to the Ruth Rogers-Altmann (1917- ) Collection circa 1920s-2002AR 11944".
  13. ^ "Nazi loot claims: a French museum is trying to raise money to buy a Canaletto for the second time". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 1 May 2021. The Strasbourg Canaletto appears in the catalogue of the Nazi sale of Altmann's entire estate by Dorotheum, the Viennese auction house, on 17-22 June and 19-21 July, 1938. The statement in the catalogue, that the June sale was to take place at Altmann's residence at "Kopfgasse 1", Vienna, confirmed the painting's provenance to the museum. Three other Canaletto paintings taken from Bernhard Altmann, which were included in the sale, are still missing. The Strasbourg Canaletto is one of only nine works painted by the artist on copper.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ "IMPRESSIONIST AND MODERN ART, EVENING SALE 21 JUNIO 2004 | 7:00 PM BST LONDRES". Sotheby's. Archived from the original on 1 May 2021. Sale: Wawra, Vienna, 7th & 8th November 1922, lot 160 Bernhard Altmann, Vienna (purchased at the above sale)
    Seized from the above by the Gestapo in June 1938
    Sale: Dorotheum, Vienna, 17th June 1938, lot 379 Gustav Ucicky, Vienna (the artist's son; purchased at the above sale) Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna (bequest from the above in 1961)
    Restituted to the heirs of Bernhard Altmann in 2004