Nazi Cloud Hangs Over Christie’s Jewelry Sale

Sparkling sapphires and lush emeralds drip from necklaces, brooches and bracelets. One of his standout works, ‘Indian Briolette’, contains a 90-carat diamond and has a hefty estimate of $7.8 million.

They are part of 700 jewels from the Austrian Heir’s estate and will go on sale at Christie’s on May 3rd. Biggest jewelry sale everThe auction house said the jewels from last year’s deceased heiress Heidi Holten’s fortune had fetched more than $150 million, surpassing the $137 million earned during the sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s collection in 2011. I predict it will bring

Proceeds will be donated to a charitable foundation established by Horten. Horten’s husband, Helmut, was a German retail billionaire who specialized in department stores.

Anthea Pears, Christie’s President, Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “This is a sale that will bring in a huge amount of money for charity. It’s important to the estate and to us.”

But in deciding to host the sale, the auction house also grapples with the fact that Helmut Holten’s business empire was built on the purchase of companies from Jews that the Nazis were forced to sell. I admit that I needed it.

“I know it has a painful history,” said Piers. “We weighed that against a number of factors,” she added, noting that the foundation was “a major driver of philanthropy.”

The Heidi Horten Foundation funds medical research and runs a museum that houses the vast art collection she has built in the heart of Vienna. Some historians, and the daughter of a businessman who worked for a Jewish-owned company that was the subject of a takeover by Helmut Holten during the Nazi era, say that today’s philanthropic profits have the effect of obscuring family roots. said it wasn’t enough to justify a certain sales event.

“He laid the foundations of his wealth during the Third Reich by buying companies at bargain prices from forced Jewish business owners.” recent books About Nazi billionaires. According to De Jong, Horten only paid his 65% of the value of the company, including when he bought his department store Alsberg in Duisburg, Germany in 1936.

Horten, 27 at the time of Alsberg’s sale, advertised his purchase in a Nazi Party newspaper, stating that the store had “passed into Aryan ownership”.

The Aryanization of Jewish companies in Germany took place in two stages. Prior to 1938, pressure from the Third Reich led Jews to sell businesses, sometimes at deep discounts. After 1938 sales were usually forced and the prices paid were often even lower. Horten was involved in deals that spanned the Nazi takeover of Europe, from Amsterdam to East Prussia, according to historians, and Horten was active in both phases.

Last year, a historian hired by Heidi Holten to investigate the nature of her husband’s fortune published a lengthy report that Helmut Holten apparently profited from the acquisition of a Jewish company that was sold under duress. but the level of wealth he realized from those activities is exaggerated.

Historian Peter Horace wrote in a report that Horten took advantage of his opportunity, but initially paid the Jewish company “a very normal market price”, which other German businessmen did. It said it was “relatively fair” compared to the deal. He had to navigate his own complicated relationship with the Nazis.

The study concluded that Horten’s actions were governed by opportunistic business sense rather than by Nazi ideology, suggesting that, in contrast to government efforts, Horten recruited some Jews as employees or suppliers. He also mentioned that Horten was a member of the Nazi party but was later exiled.

Critics of the report say that Horten downplays the benefits he derives from Aryanization.

“As a historian, I could not agree with the main explanations of the Horace report,” said Birgit Kirchmeier, a member and senior adviser to the Austrian Art Return Advisory Board, who said Horten was “worse than others.” .”

Hoeres defends his research as balanced, but says he regrets using the term “relatively impartial” in an interview, suggesting that Holten is a Jewish business owner. Some have erroneously concluded that they are minimizing the impact on He pointed out that his report surfaced information that Horten was doing forced labor at a Berlin company that repaired planes he bought in 1943. “We conducted research in 27 European archives, read thousands of articles and spoke with many contemporary eyewitnesses,” he said in an email, calling the results “a good job.” .

“We tried to get the facts, but we weren’t trying to cover it up,” Hoeres said. “What you have is a mixed photo of the Horten.”

Among those who challenged the report was Munich journalist Stephanie Stefan. Last year, he published a book detailing Horten’s takeover of Jewish companies. Her father, Reinhold Stephan, was director of one of her companies, Gerzon, her Amsterdam-based fashion house, so the topic was very personal to her, she said. said. She said the Jewish owners were forced to sell to Horten, one of whom she published an affidavit from her Marx, Arthur. Arthur Marx said that Horten threatened to deport him to a concentration camp if he resisted his takeover.

“My father rebelled against Horten from the beginning because he knew he had let some Jewish owners of German department stores sell their department stores for ridiculous amounts of money,” Stefan said. . “He fired my father immediately. Horten had his father imprisoned several times and eventually expelled from the Netherlands.”

In an interview, Hoeres said he would cite research in his next book showing that Horten did not finalize the purchase of Gerzon, and disputed the accuracy of Marx’s affidavit, which was supported by records of the period. said no.

Heidi Horten was 19 when she met her future husband of over 30 years. They married her in 1966, and when Helmut Her Horten died in 1987, she inherited nearly $1 billion from her.

Her husband’s actions during the war have emerged as a topic of debate in recent years as he worked to open a museum for her art collection in Vienna run by the Heidi Horten Foundation. rice field.

A historian’s review was commissioned to address the issues raised.

Those questions are resurfacing as Christie’s prepares to sell. Kirchmayr, a member of the Austrian Restitution Commission, noted that the auction coincided with his 25th anniversary. The Washington Principles on Nazi Confiscated Arta treaty now in use around the world to facilitate “promptly” “Fair and Just Solution” to refund request. (Christie’s organized a discussion It was held in Paris earlier this year. )

Kirchmayr said he would have liked to see more transparency in Christie’s proposed marketing materials to promote Horten sales. bottom.

“We can say that the jewelery itself has not been looted,” Kirchmayr admitted. “But money is associated with a Nazi past, and this is a fact that must be mentioned in the collector’s biography.”

After some criticism of the sale surfaced, Christie’s said it would donate part of the proceeds from the sale to Holocaust research and education, referring to Holten’s acquisition of a Jewish company that was “sold under duress”. .

“It was not Christie’s intention to hide information about Mr. Horten’s well-documented history,” Christie’s CEO Guillaume Certy said in a statement.

Robin Pogrebin and Graham Bowley contributed to the report.

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