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4 May 2023

In a letter to CEO of Christie’s, Guillaume Cerutti, Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr Shimon Samuels, demanded the withdrawal of the 3-15 May Geneva auction “World of Heidi Horten: Magnificent Jewels.”

The Horten’s billions used to build this collection were also the sum of profits from Nazi “aryanization” of Jewish department stores.

Helmut Horten worked in a department store when Hitler came to power in 1933. He profited from “aryanization laws” to buy out at a cut price that store from its Jewish owners Strauss and Lauter, who fled to the US... then continued acquiring Jewish-owned shops and department stores. In 1937, by entering the Nazi party and the initials of his name (HH), enhanced his relationship with the regime.

Apparently, after World War II, the original owners did not claim for restitution, while Horten’s business flourished for over two decades.

Horten’s banker, Wilhelm Reinhold, acted as a middleman in obtaining Jewish businesses. Horten boasted building his “aryanized” brand in pre-war press ads. His name thus became a greatly noticed trademark.

Expanding his empire in the Netherlands, he obtained a Jewish business, whose owners were deported by the Nazis. A post-war survivor who sued to get his property back predictably lost the case in front of German judges who had allegedly been former Nazis – incidentally, Horten’ own father had been a German judge.

Helmut died in Switzerland in 1987, leaving his much younger wife a billionaire heiress of ill-earned wealth. She died last year.

“Mr. Cerutti, you have announced that ‘all proceeds [of the auction sale] will be directed to a foundation for philanthropic causes: healthcare, child welfare and access to arts’.”

“Mr. CEO, the Wiesenthal Centre calls on Christie’s, for its own good name, to either withdraw this sale outright, or else to make exhaustive catalogues available to the greater public – through all media outlets – of the present Horten sale, as well as all upcoming sales of jewellery, musical instruments, books, silverware or other artwork that could be the fruit of ‘aryanization’ or Nazi looting of Jewish property.”

On the one hand, this could be the last chance for survivors to recognize their family heirlooms. On the other hand, owners aware of ill-earned items are becoming more frantic to sell, especially after the widely publicized case of Gustav Klimt’s “Lady in Gold”, finally restituted in 2006. Research on art stolen by the Nazis has been gaining momentum.

“As restitution is often too late, we call upon Christie’s in your own language, “to establish a foundation that will be directed to a philanthropic cause: for Holocaust survivors, their families and Holocaust education.”

“Thus, we expect you to announce that this May sale marks an initiative dedicated to the ‘Lessons of the Holocaust’,” concluded Samuels.

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