Tel Aviv museum pulls event with Christie’s over heiress’s £150m jewellery sale

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Tel Aviv museum pulls event with Christie’s over heiress’s £150m jewellery sale

Anger after auction house sold gems belonging to widow of Nazi member whose wartime wealth was derived from Jews

Christie's sold the late Heidi Horten's jewellery collection for a record $202m
Christie's sold the late Heidi Horten's jewellery collection for a record $202m

An Israeli museum has withdrawn from a planned event with Christie’s after the auction house sold £150m of jewellery for a family whose wealth was partly built on the Nazi plunder of Jewish businesses.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art pulled out of the December conference, which was due to discuss Holocaust restitution, amidst anger from some survivors over the sale of gems belonging to Austrian heiress Heidi Horten, who died last year.

She was the widow of Helmut Horten, owner of a department store chain and member of the Nazi party who took over Jewish firms as their owners fled the country. He was 32 years older than her and died in 1987.

David Schaecter, 94, the president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, had earlier written to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who also chairs the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, urging him not to host Christie’s, who he accuses of “a disgraceful pattern of whitewashing Holocaust profiteers”.

The jewellery sold for $202m, a record. It included unique pieces by Cartier, Harry Winston, Boivin and Van Cleef & Arpels, alongside pearls, jade, and Bulgari creations from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Her jewellery box even came to hold Marie Antoinette’s pearl, which Horten bought in 2018 for $36 million.

The British auction house was criticised for initially not including information about how Horten acquired his wealth. It only later added that his wealth was derived in part by buying Jewish businesses “sold under duress”.

Responding to reaction, Christie’s sought to make amends, saying that a “significant contribution” from the sale would be made to advance Holocaust education and research.

However, Schaecter said the foundation had still been against the sale, warning Christie’s “against glorifying the shameful history of Helmut Horten’s participation and profit from Nazi crimes against the Jewish people”.

He said: “Christie’s refused and bought in to the narrative – which we’ve seen over and over – that the passage of time and the ‘charitable purposes’ of the ex-Nazi’s foundation made it OK for Christies’ to hold the sale.”

In a statement, the Tel Aviv Art Museum said it was “attentive to criticism and bound by public sentiment” so had decided not to host the ‘Reflecting on Restitution’ conference with Christie’s, which would have included families of Holocaust survivors, historians, and legal experts.

The event was due to mark both the 25th anniversary of the Washington Principles and the 80th anniversary of the 1943 London Inter-Allied Declaration Against Acts of Dispossession Committed in Territories Under Enemy Occupation or Control.

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