A collection of some 700 pieces of jewelry thought to be worth an estimated $150 million is set to be auctioned off by Christie’s, but the jewelry has a disturbing origin story that is clouding the auction in controversy. The collection once belonged to Heidi Horten, widow of German businessman Helmut Horten, who died in 1987. Helmut Horten was a member of the Nazi party during World War II. As has been reported by The New York Times and other outlets, Helmut built his fortune on the practice of buying out Jewish businesses from desperate owners who were fleeing Europe to avoid certain death at the hands of the Nazis.
David De Jong is the author of “Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties,” and he spoke to the New York Post about Horten’s business practices before and during World War II:
“His profiteering began in 1936…Horten would often buy businesses for 65 percent of their value. Nazi authorities would be intermediaries in the sales. Plus Horten had a banker working for him as a middleman. Jewish families sold their companies to get the hell out of Germany.”
“They were coerced by authorities or by Horten himself…They sold cheaply or lost their businesses.”
By the time of his death in 1987, the fortune that started allegedly thanks to Nazi crimes against humanity had grown in value to a reported $1 billion, and allowed for the purchase of the jewels now being prepared for sale.
Christie’s President Anthea Peers says the collection is “one of the most beautifully curated” in the world of fine jewelry, and also acknowledges their disturbing history in a statement to NYT: “We are aware there is a painful history…We weighed that up against various factors” when deciding to handle their sale, Peers said.
Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti has stated:
“All proceeds from the sale will be directed to a foundation, which supports philanthropic causes, including healthcare, children’s welfare and access to the arts.“
But not everyone is satisfied. Stéphanie Stephan, daughter of one of the businessmen who Horten allegedly took advantage of back in the 1930s, says Christie’s could have handled the situation differently:
“[There was] no word about the past in their first announcement of the auction. They should have pointed out the history of Helmut Horten before … The basis of his fortune was money extorted from Jewish property. This fact only did make [it] possible to buy jewelry and art to such an extent.”
The auction house also says it “will make a significant contribution from its final proceeds of this auction to an organization that further advances Holocaust research and education” after the auction ends.
Bidding on the jewels has already begun, and in-person bids will commence on May 10.
$150 Million Jewelry Collection Owned By Widow Of Nazi Party Member And Reportedly Linked To Nazi Crimes Set To Hit Auction Block
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