An Israeli museum has withdrawn from a planned event with Christie’s after the auction house sold £150m of jewellery for a family whose wealth was partly built on the Nazi plunder of Jewish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.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.