Dealer With the Devil

IT'S UNCLEAR FROM THE LETTERS how Hitler’s name was first introduced into the deal. Ms. Bachert, Kallir’s friend and colleague, has a theory.

“[Nazi curator] Grimschitz probably said he would pay him 6,500 schillings for the picture,” Ms. Bachert, 86, said. “He negotiated with Kallir, and put him under enormous pressure.”

Kallir wrote von Vivenot four days later informing her that the picture had arrived into Hitler’s possession.

“Dr. Grimschitz, the commissarial director of the State Galerie, personally took the painting to Berlin where, according to information from Dr. Grimschitz, Dr. Goebbels acquired it in order to present it to the Imperial Chancellor as a gift,” Kallir wrote on April 17, 1938. “These are the facts and circumstances which you, Madame, wished to receive in writing.”

When von Vivenot demanded her profits from the sale, Kallir explained that he had not yet received any of the money and that he resented von Vivenot’s son hassling him. Finally, on May 11, 1938, von Vivenot, in a looping script, confirmed the receipt of her payment of 4,500 schillings. Kallir had subtracted the 2,000 schillings she owed him. The unsavory business was done.

Within weeks, Kallir fled from Vienna to live in Lucerne and Paris before arriving in New York on August 22, 1939, aboard the S.S. Ile De France with his wife and two children. That same year he opened the Galerie St. Etienne, where he would eventually give Klimt and Schiele their first one-man shows. He became a leading figure in the Austrian refugee movement.

“Otto Kallir introduced Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt to an American audience at a time when there was very little interest in Austrian and German art,” said Renee Price, director of Mr. Lauder’s Neue Galerie New York. “He was a true pioneer who systematically created a market for these artists.”

The Hitler sale seemed to be buried behind him.

But Kallir’s involvement in refugee politics earned him enemies. A whispering campaign resulted in a blind item published in the Washington Daily News on November 28, 1941, claiming Kallir was an “agent for Hitler and Mussolini” and “procured the favorite Waldmuellers [sic] and Alts for Der Feuhrer.”

The article, according to his family, caused Kallir to suffer from a heart attack soon after it was printed.

“I remember, I was there,” Ms. Bachert said. “It was awful.”

Considerably more disconcerting was that, within a week, Kallir had also come under F.B.I. scrutiny, with Hoover ordering his agents to look into the matter.

“It is desired that the New York Field Division make an appropriate inquiry concerning subject Nierenstein to determine whether he is engaged in activities inimical to the best interests of this country.”

One Austrian refugee in particular, a former propaganda officer named Willibald Plöchl, repeatedly denounced Kallir to the F.B.I. He was later outcast from the refugee group after an unsuccessful power grab. His nephew Gerhardt Plöchl recently published a book in Vienna with the goal of rehabilitating his uncle’s reputation. The book has been a source for Mr. Dowd.

That Kallir was the target of an investigation is far from incriminating.

“They would oftentimes open a case, and many, many, many times it was just an unsubstantiated rumor or someone trying to get back at somebody,” said Greg Bradsher, the senior archivist with the National Archives and Records Administration who oversaw the agency’s Holocaust assets project. “And many times, many, many pieces of paper can be documented, and at the end there’s nothing.”

The investigation lasted for more than a year. Interviews by agents in three field offices yielded hundreds of pages of documents, many marked secret, in an effort to determine whether Kallir was a threat to the war effort. They never reached a conclusion, but in 1942, the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime intelligence agency that would later become the C.I.A., judged Kallir innocent.

“These attacks were not justified,” the report concluded.

“This was the most precarious moment for a Jew, because anything that went wrong and you’d be sent to a concentration camp,” Ms. Kallir said. “I can’t imagine what it was like to endure the day-to-day persecution and humiliation and compromise that you had to endure under those circumstances.”

Or as her grandfather put it in his last correspondence to von Vivenot on April 17, 1938: “The entire matter is also very unpleasant for me.”