WFDB Joins Those Objecting to Heidi Horten Auction at Christie’s

AuctionsMay 08, 2023

WFDB Joins Those Objecting to Heidi Horten Auction at Christie’s

Jewish organizations are calling on Christie’s to halt the auction or donate a greater portion of the proceeds to Holocaust education.

20230508_Heidi Horten Bulgari Necklace.jpg
This Bulgari diamond, sapphire, and emerald necklace is part of Christie’s auction of the jewels of late Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten. After a New York Times report detailed how her husband, Helmut Horten, profited when the Nazis forced Jewish business owners to sell at rock-bottom prices, organizations are calling for Christie’s to call off the sale or for a larger portion of the proceeds to be donated to Holocaust education.
New York—Christie’s auction of the jewels of late Austrian billionaire Heidi Horten first made headlines for its show-stopping pieces, but the dark backstory of how her husband built his fortune continues to overshadow the sale.

Late last month, The New York Times detailed how Helmut Horten profited when the Nazis forced Jewish people to sell their businesses at low prices.

This report and Christie’s plans to move forward with the jewelry auction have sparked outrage within the jewelry industry as well as among Jewish organizations.

In a letter to François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe, dated May 5 the World Federation of Diamond Bourses said it objects to the sale and felt it necessary to express its outrage.

“In a time of Holocaust denial and the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world, we find it especially appalling that a world-renowned auction house would engage in such a sale,” wrote WFDB President Yoram Dvash.

In an earlier statement, Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti said: “It was never Christie’s intention to hide information about the well-documented history of Mr. Horten and we have added relevant information to our sale materials and website to ensure that the facts are clear to all.”

Following the backlash, the auction house said it will be donating a “significant” portion of the final sale proceeds to unspecified organizations that further Holocaust research and education.

WFDB is asking Christie’s to go a step further than that.

“The WFDB strongly requests that if Christie’s insists on holding the Horten auction, that you personally ensure that the major portion of the proceeds be donated by Christie’s to charities supporting the welfare of Holocaust survivors, as well as commemoration and education.”

The organization also requested that the amount of the contribution and its recipients be shared with the public.

In a statement shared with National Jeweler this morning, Anthea Peers, president of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Africa, said Christie’s was aware of how Helmut built his wealth but added, “However—and 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 beginning of the 1970s and 2022, the year of her death.”

As for the donation, Christie’s reiterated that a “significant portion” of its commission will be donated to Holocaust research and education.

“It will be up to these organizations, if they wish, to communicate about these donations,” said Peers.

 Related stories will be right here … 

Other organizations have joined the call for Christie’s to increase the size of its donation or halt the jewelry auction entirely.

In a statement, the American Jewish Committee said the fact that the auction proceeds will go to charity, including some to Holocaust organizations, was not enough.

“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,” said AJC.

“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.”

The AJC asked that the auction be put on hold while it was determined what portion of Helmut’s wealth came at the expense of Nazi victims. Funds should then be directed to support Holocaust survivors and the educational programs that enable them to tell their stores.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish global human rights organization based in Los Angeles with offices across the world, also called for the halt of the auction until more research can be done.

“Christie’s must suspend this sale until full research of links to Nazi era acquisitions are completed,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action. “Don’t reward those whose families may have gained riches from desperate Jews targeted and threatened by the Nazis.” 

In her statement, Peers said: “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, and none of these jewels come from a spoliation or a forced sale from a Jewish owner.”

Christie’s estimates “The World of Heidi Horten” sale will fetch $150 million, surpassing the auction record set by the sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s private collection in 2011 (total: $137.2 million).

The sale of Horten’s jewels will benefit The Heidi Horten Foundation, which supports her art museum, The Heidi Horten Collection in Vienna, and other causes.

A viewing will take place in Geneva this week, with the first part of the auction scheduled for Wednesday, and the second for Friday. 

There will also be two online sales. The first online sale is taking place now through May 15 with November dates to follow for the remaining jewels.

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