Friday, May 26, 2023

Controversy over sale of jewels of family that made their fortune under Nazis

Christie’s on Wednesday launched an online auction of hundreds of pieces of jewelry belonging to Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten, whose husband, a German businessman, made his fortune under the Nazis.

More than 700 pieces of jewelry are part of this collection estimated at more than $150 million, once in the possession of this Austrian conservator (1941-2022).

Four hundred lots will be distributed in cinemas in Geneva on May 10 and 12, with the rest going online from May 3 to 15 and again in November.

The sale could eclipse previous records held by Christie’s for the property owned by actress Elizabeth Taylor in 2011 and the ‘Maharajas and Mughal Grandeur’ collection in 2019, both of which topped $100 million.

“This is a historic moment for Christie’s,” said Anthea Pearce, Europe, Africa and Middle East Region President.

Many hold exceptional 20th-century pieces by Cartier, Harry Winston, Boivin and Van Cleef & Arpels, as well as a significant selection of pearls, jade pieces and Bulgari creations from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

The Austrian billionaire died in June 2022, days after inaugurating a private art museum in Vienna that presented his art collection. According to Forbes ranking, his fortune was 2.9 billion dollars.

Born in the Austrian capital, the daughter of an engraver, she worked in a law firm after completing a hotel school. According to Christie, before marrying him in 1966, while vacationing with her parents in an Austrian village, she met her future husband – over thirty years her senior.

Mr. Horten, owner of one of the largest department store chains in Germany, died in 1987 in Croglio in the Swiss canton of Ticino, where the foundation named after him is located.

“well documented”

The foundation described him as an “entrepreneur with a strong sense of social responsibility” who launched “the first German supermarket modeled on American consumer habits” in the late 1950s.

The Canton of Ticino emphasizes on its online site that he “built his empire from the 1930s during which he acquired many properties”.

In 1936, three years after Adolf Hitler became the German Chancellery, he took over the Duisburg-based textile company Ellsberg after its Jewish owners had fled, before taking over several other Jewish-owned stores before the war.

He was later accused of profiting from the “Aryanization” of Jewish property (predatory measures aimed at transferring ownership of businesses owned by people of Jewish descent).

“After the end of World War II, he was captured by the British and interned in an establishment in West Germany until 1948”, indicates the Canton of Ticino on the subject.

According to a report published in January 2022 by historians commissioned by the Horton Foundation, including Professor Peter Hoares, he was in fact a member of the Nazi Party before he was expelled, and the denazification committee later exonerated him.

But the origin of his fortune, which was inherited by his wife, casts doubt on the auction, which has been criticized by some historians in the media.

On its site, Christie’s states that “Mr. Horton’s business dealings during the Nazi era, during which he bought Jewish businesses sold under duress, are well documented”.

The auction house also indicates that the proceeds of the sale will go to the Heidi Horton Foundation, set up in 2021, as well as medical research, child protection and other philanthropic activities the wealthy heiress has supported over the years. decade.

Christie’s will donate a “significant contribution” of sales commissions to “an organization that advances Holocaust research and education.”

Bright Times News Desk
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