Controversy surrounding the sale of jewelry from a family who made their fortune under the Nazis

Controversy surrounding the sale of jewelry from a family who made their fortune under the Nazis

Christie’s launches from Wednesday the online auction of hundreds of jewels that belonged to the Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten, whose husband, a German businessman, made his fortune under the Nazis.

More than 700 jewels that were in the possession of this Austrian patron (1941-2022) are part of this collection estimated at more than 150 million dollars.

Four hundred lots will be distributed in theaters in Geneva on May 10 and 12, the others will be put online from May 3 to 15 and then in November.

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

“This is a historic moment for Christie’s,” said Anthea Peers, President of the Europe, Africa and Middle East region.

Among the lots are exceptional 20th century pieces by Cartier, Harry Winston, Boivin and Van Cleef & Arpels, as well as an important selection of pearls, jade pieces and Bulgari creations from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

The Austrian billionaire died in June 2022 a few days after inaugurating a private art museum in Vienna presenting her art collection. According to the Forbes ranking, his fortune amounted to 2.9 billion dollars.

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

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Owner of one of the largest department store chains in Germany, Mr. Horten died in 1987 in Croglio, in the Swiss canton of Ticino, where the foundation that bears his name is located.

“Well documented”

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

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

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

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

“After the end of the Second World War, he was captured by the British and interned until 1948 in an establishment in western Germany”, indicates on this subject the canton of Ticino.

According to a report published in January 2022 by historians commissioned by the Horten Foundation, including Professor Peter Hoeres, he was indeed a member of the Nazi party, before being expelled from it, and the denazification committee subsequently exonerated him. .

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

On its site, Christie’s points out that “Mr. Horten’s business practices during the Nazi era, during which he purchased Jewish businesses sold under duress, are well documented”.

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The auction house also indicates that the proceeds of the sale will go to the Heidi Horten Foundation, created in 2021 to support the eponymous collection, as well as to medical research, child protection and other philanthropic activities that the wealthy heiress has supported them for many decades.

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

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