Criticism of Jewelry Sale With Nazi Shadow Trails Christie’s

Christie’s, which has come under fire for selling real-estate jewelry built on part of the profits it made from buying Jewish companies during the Holocaust, said this spring that Christie’s will sell a portion of the proceeds. to the promotion of Holocaust research and education. But auction houses have had trouble finding groups to accept the proceeds, as the sale went ahead despite objections from Jewish groups.

Record sales of jewelry from Heidi Horten’s legacy generated $202 million. Horten is an Austrian heiress whose husband, Helmut, built a retail empire in Germany, partly using the Nazi policy of forcing Jewish businessmen to sell their companies.

Yad Vashem, the organization that runs Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust victims, said it had rejected a donation from Christie’s, citing funding sources. The Jerusalem Post reported that several other Jewish groups in Israel also refused to donate to Christie from the sale of the Horten.

Christie’s spokeswoman Deedria Miller said the company continues to consider donations to groups that promote understanding of the Holocaust.

“Christie’s is actively engaged in donation agreements with various organizations to support Holocaust education and research, including issues of Aryanization and spoiling,” Miller said in a statement. “

Now, Israel’s major museums have canceled joint meetings with Christie’s, citing the auction house’s role in jewelry sales.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art announced last weekend that it had decided not to participate with Christie’s in an event aimed at examining policies for the return of items lost by Jews during the Holocaust. A spokeswoman for the museum said the decision was made in coordination with city officials because the museum is government-funded.

“We understand that this issue has created a heightened sensitivity among Holocaust survivors’ groups, so we will no longer hold meetings,” Tania Cohen-Uzzieri, director of the museum, said in an emailed interview. rice field.

“We respect the Tel Aviv Museum’s decision to cancel the return program originally scheduled for December,” Christie’s spokesman Miller said in a statement.

Criticism began to mount even before the sale of jewelery purchased with Helmut Houten’s estate. Mr. Horten built a retail empire in the 1930s under the Nazi policy of Aryanization. At that time, Jews were pressured or forced to sell their businesses at deep discounts. Under the government, he ran department stores all over Europe, from Amsterdam to East Prussia.

Heidi Horten met her husband long after World War II, who was reinventing himself as a supermarket king in the post-war German economic miracle. She was 19 and he was over 30 years older. The two married in 1966 and remained in a relationship until Helmut’s death in 1987, after which Heidi inherited nearly $1 billion.

Some groups condemned the sale of Christie’s and called on collectors to do business elsewhere.

“Jewish clients and institutions, and anyone with heart and integrity, should think twice before doing business with Christie’s. ,” said David Schecter, president of the Holocaust Survivors’ Organization. He is a US Foundation and a survivor himself.

Before the Tel Aviv Museum canceled a meeting with the auction house, Scheckter also told museum administrators it would “provide a platform within the Jewish state for Holocaust profiteers to justify looting.” sent a letter of

Christie’s executives said they considered reputational risks before agreeing to sell the Horten Collection.

“We know it has a painful history,” Anthea Pierce, Christie’s president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told The New York Times in April. She “considered it against a variety of factors,” she said, adding that the Heidi Horten Foundation, including a museum named after the Viennese heiress, would be “a major driver of philanthropy.” added.

Accusations from the daughter of an academic and businessman of being targeted by Helmut Horten during the Nazi era have haunted the family for years. In 2020, Heidi Houten commissioned historian Peter Horace to produce a report on her husband. He conceded that Helmut Holten undoubtedly profited from the persecution of Jews, but Horten’s motives were not Nazi anti-Semitism, with which he eventually fell out, but opportunism. He also said that he had a good sense of business.

In May, despite criticism, the bid could not be delayed, with several items in the jewelery collection selling for more than $1 million, including a Bvlgari ring with a large pink diamond. It sold for $10 million, nearly double the highest bid, including fees. Almost 98% of his 400 gems put up for auction were sold. Half of the bidders were from Europe and the Middle East, according to the auction house. Over a quarter lived in the United States.

A second sale of Horten Collection jewelery, which includes about 300 lots, is scheduled for November, but some Jewish groups, including the American Foundation for Holocaust Survivors, are trying to convince Christie’s to stop the sale. .

The company has not disclosed how much commission it plans to donate from sales.

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