SWC Urges Christie’s Auction House to Immediately Halt Auction of Jewelry Collection Tied to Nazi Sympathizer
May 3, 2023
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) is urging Christie’s Auction House to immediately halt an auction, starting today and running through May 15th, of a jewelry collection valued at nearly $150 million and largely procured by Heidi Horton, the wife of Helmut Horten, a man who made a fortune buying businesses from Jews who were forced to sell in Nazi Germany.
Helmut Horton took over the textile company Alsberg based in the western city of Duisburg after its Jewish owners fled Germany in 1936. After that “sale” at below-market value, Horton was said to have taken out an ad in a Nazi party newspaper, announcing the store was now under “Aryan ownership.” He later took over several other shops which had belonged to Jewish owners before the war.
“Christie’s must suspend this sale until full research of link to Nazi era acquisitions are completed. Don’t reward those whose families may have gained riches from desperate Jews targeted and threatened by the Nazis,” stated Rabbi Abraham Cooper, SWC Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action.
SWC Letter to Christie's Auction House: “Stop Your Sale of Nazi Aryanized Collections”
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’s 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 jewelery, 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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About the Simon Wiesenthal Center
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a Jewish global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context. The Center confronts anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations. It is accredited as an NGO at international organizations including the United Nations, UNESCO, OSCE, Organization of American States (OAS), and the Council of Europe.
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