03/05/2013 05:32 EST | Updated 05/05/2013 05:12 EDT

German gallery returns painting to estate of German-Jewish Canadian art dealer

OTTAWA - A German museum has returned a 600-year-old painting to the estate of a Jewish art dealer who was forced to flee the Nazis before later becoming a success in the Canadian art world.

Max Stern's family once ran one of the most prominent art galleries in Germany, but was forced to sell it in 1937 and leave the country.

Eventually, Stern settled in Montreal and began the long process of rebuilding the art business begun by his father and seeking the return of the paintings.

The oil painting "The Virgin with Child," attributed to the Master of Flemaile — an unidentified Flemish artist from the early 1400s — was turned over by Staatsgalerie Stuttgart at a ceremony Tuesday at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin.

The painting was sold by the Stern family in order to obtain an exit permit for Max Stern's mother to leave Germany.

It is one of 10 pieces from their original collection that have now been returned to his estate, overseen by Montreal's Concordia University in Montreal since Stern's death in 1987.

“With more than 400 paintings yet to be recovered, the most immediate challenge lies in encouraging a number of other museums currently in possession of Stern paintings to follow the lead of the Staatsgalerie,” Alan Shepard, president of Concordia University, said in a statement Tuesday.

The painting was returned as Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that Canada will lead the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance next year.

The alliance is a group of 31 countries devoted to promoting Holocaust education and research.

"Recognizing the uniqueness and particularity of the Holocaust in no way diminishes other historic genocides, but we believe that there is a very specific, context surrounding the Holocaust, namely anti-Semitism," Kenney said in a conference call from Berlin.

Kenney called anti-Semitism an "ancient and pernicious form of hatred," describing the genocide as "unique in its ferocious intent to completely obliterate the Jewish people."

"We think it's particularly relevant today given ongoing violent anti-Semitism."

Canada takes over leadership of the alliance from Belgium and will sponsor an international conference this fall in Toronto.

Kenney said that expanding the alliance to other countries will be among Canada's priorities.