After 70 years, lost paintings come home

By Marcus Dysch, November 20, 2008
Kath Pearce (left) with Mary-Clare Adam and her father’s paintings

Kath Pearce (left) with Mary-Clare Adam and her father’s paintings

The daughter of a renowned anthropologist has been reunited with a collection of his oil paintings which had been lost for almost 70 years.

Leonhard Adam painted the five panels of roses and poppies in 1940 while interned on the Isle of Man. He came to Britain after fleeing Nazi Germany, but was deported to Australia on the infamous Dunera in 1940.

The Dunera left Liverpool for Australia in July 1940, carrying 2,450 men, mostly German Jews Britain had deemed to be "enemy aliens".

Before leaving the Isle of Man, Leonhard Adam had passed the artwork to fellow internee Walter Bohmer and asked him to keep it until it could be returned to his family.

After Mr Bohmer's death in 1991, the paintings were stored by his family friend, Kath Pearce, at her home in Bedford. Mrs Pearce's own mother was also interned in the Isle of Man.

It was only after her retirement last year that she began to sift through his belongings, discovered Dr Adam's paintings and set about reuniting them with his family. Mrs Pearce said: "Walter was a hoarder and had these paintings.

"Before he died he told me what to do with various items and when I asked him about the paintings he told me where they were originally from But I did not know what camp he had been in. I searched through Walter's papers and discovered he had been in the Isle of Man."

After matching the names on the paintings with paperwork from the internment camp, Mrs Pearce spent 18 months searching for remaining members of Dr Adam's family.

She eventually traced his daughter, Mary-Clare, to Tel Aviv. The women made contact and last month Ms Adam visited Britain to collect the paintings. They were handed over at a Friday night dinner hosted by Charlotte Lang, a cousin newly discovered by Kath Pearce during her research.

Ms Adam said: "Words are far from sufficient to express my admiration to Kath for succeeding in her quest to fulfil Walter's wish and to locate me wherever I was in the world."

Mrs Pearce said: "It's what Walter and Leonhard wanted. They would have been delighted. Mary-Clare and I could not even speak when I handed the paintings back.

"We were overwhelmed and could not believe I had tracked her down. But it was the right thing to do and the outcome is fantastic."

Following his arrival in Australia, Dr Adam worked in the University of Melbourne's History department as a scholar and lecturer. Dr Adam died in 1960.

Last updated: 12:25pm, November 20 2008