The British auction house Christie’s will auction some 700 pieces of jewelry estimated to be worth $150 million from late Austrian heiress Heidi Horten, whose late German husband began to acquire his fortune from Jews fleeing Nazi oppression.
The auction house, which will host the sale in Geneva, Switzerland, has faced backlash for the controversial agreement to sell off what it said Monday is “one of the greatest jewelry collections” and which is expected to outstrip sales previously seen with the 2011 auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s collection and the 2019 Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence auction.
Both auctions were the only two jewelry collections to have ever garnered more than $100 million in sales.
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The jewelry that will be sold from Horten’s collection was reportedly acquired in the 1970s and after. And the manner in which her husband, Helmut Horten, acquired it has raised eyebrows. He gained his substantial wealth in part by purchasing “Jewish businesses that were sold under duress,” Christie’s noted.
“What’s important is that we have been completely transparent,” Rahul Kadakia, international head of jewelry at Christie’s, told Reuters. “We are selling this collection in its identity with the name Horten. It’s not being sold as an anonymous collection.”
A “significant contribution” will be made from the auction’s sales to Jewish organizations to advance Holocaust education and research and other programs. Neither an amount nor a percentage to be contributed were disclosed.
“Of course we cannot erase history,” Max Fawcett, head of the jewelry department at Christie’s in Geneva, told Reuters. “But we hope that the funds from this sale will go to do good in the future.”
Not everyone is content with Christie’s solution to carry on with the massive auction.
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“It is not enough that this sale will benefit a charitable foundation or that Christie’s will make an unspecified donation for Holocaust education,” the American Jewish Committee (AJC) said in a statement.
“One of the most challenging tasks in addressing the legacy of the Holocaust is providing justice for the massive looting of its victims. There are still many barriers to securing restitution,” the committee said. “It is even more difficult when unscrupulous businessmen took advantage of Aryanization laws and the desperate needs of Jews fleeing the Nazis to amass their fortunes.”
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The AJC has instead called for the auction to be put on hold until a “serious effort is made to determine what portion of this wealth came from Nazi victims.”
“Once determined, it should instead be directed to support the needy and infirm Holocaust survivors who are still among us and the educational programs that tell their stories,” the committee added.