Nazi Loot Hoarder Won’t Relinquish Art, Wants It Back

Photographer: Alexander Webb/Bloomberg

The Austrian home of Hamburg-born Cornelius Gurlitt, is seen at 9 Carl Storch-Strasse, Salzburg, in Austria. Close

The Austrian home of Hamburg-born Cornelius Gurlitt, is seen at 9 Carl Storch-Strasse,... Read More

Close
Open
Photographer: Alexander Webb/Bloomberg

The Austrian home of Hamburg-born Cornelius Gurlitt, is seen at 9 Carl Storch-Strasse, Salzburg, in Austria.

Cornelius Gurlitt, whose secret hoard of 1,406 artworks was seized in Munich by German authorities, says he doesn’t want to relinquish any of the art and is demanding its return, Spiegel magazine reported.

Authorities seized the cache, including pieces by Max Beckmann, Pablo Picasso, Oskar Kokoschka and Max Liebermann, as evidence in an investigation on suspicion of tax evasion and embezzlement in March 2012. The German government says as many as 590 of the artworks may have been looted from Jewish collectors by the Nazis.

“What kind of a state is it that confiscates my private property?” the Spiegel quoted Gurlitt as saying. The magazine said Gurlitt, 80, who has until now shied away from journalists, agreed to spend several days with a reporter.

“They must be returned to me,” Spiegel quoted Gurlitt as saying. “They are putting all this in a false light. I won’t speak to them and I won’t give anything back -- no, no, no.”

Families of Jewish collectors whose artworks were confiscated or sold under duress in the Nazi era have filed claims for their looted works to the Augsburg prosecutor, who is investigating Gurlitt.

The German government is publishing details of the 590 works that may have been stolen on the database lostart.de.

Father’s Legacy

Gurlitt blames himself for failing to protect his father’s legacy, the Spiegel said. Hildebrand Gurlitt worked for the Nazis, selling the “degenerate art” they banned to raise hard currency abroad.

For his son Cornelius, the father was a hero who saved the art from the Nazis, the bombs, the Russians and the Americans, the Spiegel reported.

The artworks were Gurlitt’s friends and he spoke to them and took them out of the cupboard to pore over them in the evenings, the Spiegel said.

“There is nothing in my life I have loved more than the pictures,” he told the magazine. He said the most painful experience of his life was having them seized by authorities.

“Now they are in a cellar somewhere and I am alone,” the magazine quoted him as saying. Gurlitt is undecided about whether to get a lawyer, the Spiegel said.

“I am not a murderer, why are they hunting me?” he asked, according to the magazine.

If Gurlitt refuses to negotiate, heirs will have to fight for the art in court. Gurlitt could have legal claim to the art because of Germany’s 30-year statute of limitations and a rule called “Ersitzung,” under which the possessor of property gains title after 10 years unless he or she is deemed to have acted in bad faith.

Earlier this week, Gurlitt didn’t answer his door in Munich or at a home he owns in Salzburg, and didn’t respond to a message left at his Munich apartment.

Muse highlights include the London and New York weekend guides, Lewis Lapham on history, Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night and Greg Evans and Craig Seligman on movies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.