Christie's Halts Auction of Jewelry Tied to Nazi-Era Wealth

09:28 01.09.2023

Christie's, the renowned auction house, has announced the cancellation of the second auction of jewels from the estate of Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten. The decision comes after the initial sale in May, which attracted controversy and intense scrutiny due to the Nazi connections of Horten's late husband, Helmut Horten. The first auction, held in Geneva, generated a record-breaking $202 million, surpassing previous sales of Elizabeth Taylor's properties and the "Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence" collection. Hopes were high for similar success in the second round, but Christie's has chosen to halt further sales in response to the backlash.

The sale of the Heidi Horten jewelry collection drew significant criticism from numerous Jewish groups, who described it as indecent and demanded more transparency regarding the origins of the gems. Many questioned whether the collection contained items that were looted from Jewish victims during the Nazi era. The New York Times published a report highlighting the connections between the Horten fortune and the Nazi regime, revealing that Helmut Horten had been a member of the Nazi party before being expelled. The report also stated that he had acquired various businesses that had previously belonged to Jewish owners.

In response to the mounting scrutiny, Christie's defended its decision to proceed with the sale, emphasizing that all proceeds would go towards charities. Rahul Kadakia, Christie's international head of jewelry, highlighted the auction house's separate donation towards Holocaust research and education. However, the auction house faced continued pressure from Jewish organizations, leading to its decision to cancel the second auction.

The cancellation of the sale has been welcomed by Holocaust survivors and Jewish groups. David Schaecter, president of the Holocaust Survivors' Foundation USA, applauded Christie's for recognizing the pain and sensitivities associated with selling items connected to Nazi-era atrocities. Schaecter sees this decision as a signal to all auction houses about the consequences of dealing with what he refers to as "tainted goods."

The second auction, which was scheduled to take place in November in Geneva, would have included approximately 300 lots, albeit generating a smaller sum compared to the first sale. The first auction showcased some of the most valuable pieces from the Horten collection, including diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires. Despite the cancellation, conversations are ongoing between Christie's and various Jewish organizations regarding the potential donation of proceeds.

Christie's acknowledged the impact of the intense scrutiny and expressed its commitment to reflection. Anthea Peers, president of Christie's Europe, Middle East, and Africa, stated that the auction house would continue to consider the implications of the sale and its aftermath. The decision to cancel the auction serves as a reminder of the ethical responsibilities faced by auction houses and the wider art market when dealing with objects that have a painful history.

/ Friday, September 1, 2023, 9:28 AM /

themes:  New York (state)

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