ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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'Christie's is obscuring the full scope of their greed'

Holocaust survivors want Tel Aviv to pull out of Christie’s looted art conference

Request comes after auction house ignored Jewish groups’ pleas to drop sale of jewelry belonging to widow of man who bought Jewish businesses sold under duress in 1930s

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Christie's international head of jewelry, Rahul Kadakia, speaks on his mobile telephone behind a display case of jewels during a press preview of the 'World of Heidi Horten' sales in Geneva, on May 8, 2023. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
Christie's international head of jewelry, Rahul Kadakia, speaks on his mobile telephone behind a display case of jewels during a press preview of the 'World of Heidi Horten' sales in Geneva, on May 8, 2023. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Holocaust survivors urged Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to pull a municipal museum out of a conference on restitution of looted artworks in protests against its organizer, the Christie’s auction house, which recently sold jewelry bought with profits from a retail empire built on Jewish businesses that were sold under duress.

“Christie’s rebuffed the grave concerns of survivors and Jewish groups everywhere, and sponsored an auction of the Heidi Horten jewelry collection last week, knowing full well that Helmut Horten’s fortune was built on businesses and properties confiscated by Nazi Germany from Jewish families,” David Schaecter, the president of the Holocaust Survivors’ Foundation – USA, wrote in a letter sent Sunday to Huldai.

In the controversy referenced by Schaecter, Christie’s rejected calls from some Jewish groups for the withdrawal of the Horten collection. The critics argued that Heidi Horten’s husband, Helmut Horten, who died in 1987, had purchased Jewish businesses “sold under duress” during the Nazi era to build a retail empire.

Christie’s rejected calls from some Jewish groups for the sale to be withdrawn. It acknowledged that Heidi Horten drew a “significant inheritance” from her husband, Helmut Horten, who died in 1987. Christie’s acknowledged that his actions had been “well documented.”

Tens of thousands of Jewish-owned retail stores were “aryanized” under the Nazis, and the values of Jewish holdings were depressed by boycott measures, propaganda attacks, and other pressures from the authorities in the 1930s in Germany. Many Jews received no compensation.

Businesspeople like Horten profited from this. He built most of his wealth after the war, but his department store brand was born in the Nazi period.

An employee of Sotheby’s auction house holds up the ‘Sunrise Ruby’ ring, a cushion shaped Myanmar ruby of some 25.59 carats of pigeon blood colour during a photocall in London, April 8, 2015. (Alastair Grant/AP)

Chritstie’s said that all the jewelry that went on sale on May 11 in Geneva, Switzerland was purchased after 1970, meaning that those items had not been looted. The auction house also said that it took on the collection on the understanding that all of the proceeds, which were about $150 million, would go to charitable causes.

Christie’s began organizing the conference, titled “Reflecting on Restitution,” early this year. It is scheduled to take place later this year, with multiple prominent art museums taking part, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

But Christie’s own policy delegitimizes its initiative to discuss Nazi-looted art, Schaecter said.

Christie’s, he wrote, is “perpetuating one of the most terrible tactics of Holocaust collaborators and profiteers, who obscure the full scope of their greed by minimizing the murderous behavior that led to their fortunes.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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