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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Christie’s cancels sale of late Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten’s jewelry over Nazi links

Christie’s has canceled the second auction of jewels belonging to an Austrian billionaire, whose German husband made his fortune under the Nazis, following “intense scrutiny,” it said Friday. The auction house held a first controversial online and in-person sale in Geneva of part of the large stash of more than 700 jewels in May, and had been scheduled to hold a second round in November.

But in a statement it said “Christie’s has taken the decision not to proceed with further sales of property from the Estate of Heidi Horten.”

With just a portion of the collection sold, the auction eclipsed previous records set by Christie’s in sales of properties that belonged to actress Elizabeth Taylor in 2011 and the “Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence” collection in 2019, both of which exceeded $100 million.

Hopes had been high for similar results from the second round. But following an initial report in the New York Times, Christie’s sent a statement to AFP confirming that it had canceled the second round, acknowledging that “the sale of the Heidi Horten jewelry collection has provoked intense scrutiny.”

“The reaction to it has deeply affected us and many others, and we will continue to reflect on it,” it said.

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A large number of Jewish groups had asked Christie’s to halt the initial Horten sale in May, describing it as “indecent” and demanding that the auction house do more to determine how much of it came from victims of the Nazis.

The extraordinary collection belonged to Horten, who died last year aged 81 with a fortune of $2.9 billion, according to Forbes.

A report published in January 2022 by historians commissioned by the Horten Foundation said Horten’s husband Helmut Horten, who died in Switzerland in 1987, had been a member of the Nazi party before being expelled.

In 1936, three years after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Horten took over textile company Alsberg, based in the western city of Duisburg, after its Jewish owners fled. He later took over several other shops that had belonged to Jewish owners before the war.

Christie’s in May defended its decision to go ahead with the sale, with Christie’s international head of jewelry Rahul Kadakia telling AFP that all of the proceeds would go towards charities.

“Christie’s separately is making a significant donation towards Holocaust research and education,” he said at the time, stressing that the “proceeds of the sale is going to do good.”

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