In Spring, Fine Art Globe covered the despicable and disheartening plan Christie’s had to auction the jewelry collection amassed by Heidi Horten. Mrs. Horten died last year, acclaimed for her exquisite taste and support for the arts. Her much older husband, Helmut Horten, who died in 1987, had been a nazi sympathizer who built his department store empire by intimidating Jewish store owners into selling their businesses to him for below market price.
Despite an outcry from Jewish groups, Christie’s went ahead with the sale. According to the Times, it generated a record $202 million, 50% higher than the previous record set by the sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels.
In a nod to the outrage expressed by those who found it distasteful to see so much profit be directed toward a family who benefited from suffering, the famed auction house added a sentence about Helmut’s wealth having been amassed on the backs of sellers “under duress.” In a particularly cynical bit of reputation laundering, Christie’s also said it would donate a portion of the auction’s take to Holocaust research.
Now, with Yad Vashem and others having declined to accept donations that sources characterized in Fine Art Globe as “blood money,” Christie’s has decided not to move forward with its planned sale of a second tranche of Mrs. Horten’s jewelry. A truism of public relations holds that a company releases its bad news at inconspicuous times. Christie’s released word of the cancellation on a Thursday night before the long Labor Day weekend.
In response to withering criticism surrounding the first sale, Anthea Peers, the president of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Africa region, sent a truly disgusting letter to David Schaecter, who had complained to Christie’s on behalf of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation.
We were aware of the history of Helmut Horten’s actions during the Nazi period that provided the
foundation for his wealth. Without ignoring or excusing Mr. Horten’s actions in any way, the jewelry
collection of his wife, Heidi Horten, was assembled decades later, between the early 1970s and
2022, the year of her death. As with all property entrusted to Christie’s, this collection has
undergone a thorough verification process. The provenance of each of the 700 objects up for
auction is well-documented, with detailed indications of purchase; none of these jewels comes from
a spoliation or a forced sale from a Jewish owner. Rather, these jewels were acquired from
prestigious houses such as Bulgari, Cartier, Tiffany, Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels.
Through this public sale, organised in a transparent manner, Christie’s seeks to work to salvage
some good from one of the most painful periods in global history, and to preserve the memory of
those who were tragically its victims.
Get it? Mrs. Horten bought the jewelry years later. And she didn’t peel it off the arms of bodies piled up at Treblinka, she shopped at “prestigious houses such as Bulgari, Cartier, Tiffany, Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels.”
Sam Dubbin, a lawyer representing the Holocaust Survivors Foundation, told Fine Art Globe, “Christie’s response only proves our point. It unquestionably trivializes the Holocaust to justify using money brutally extracted from the Jewish people under barbaric conditions people today barely understand, in order to support the profiteer’s chosen “charitable purposes.” The money, and those decisions, belong to the victims’ families, period. Mr. Horten’s fortune cannot be divorced from the murder of six million Jewish people, including one and a half million children.”
With regard to Christie’s vague promise to support Holocaust education, Dubbin added, “It is highly suspect that Christie’s is not divulging the recipients of the money it plans to ‘donate’ for so-called ‘research and education.’ Any institution receiving these token funds under these disgraceful conditions should be exposed and held accountable as well.”