Collector of Billion-Dollar Nazi-Looted Art Trove Denies Works Were Stolen From Jews

Reclusive Cornelius Gurlitt Speaks Out for First Time

Art Cave: Cornelius Gurlitt lived a secluded life in this apartment, keeping the shades drawn and his door locked.
getty images
Art Cave: Cornelius Gurlitt lived a secluded life in this apartment, keeping the shades drawn and his door locked.

By Reuters

Published November 17, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The German recluse whose billion-dollar art hoard was seized by authorities has broken his silence to ask for the pictures back and to deny his father, an art dealer for Hitler, ever extorted any from Jewish owners.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, his first substantive comments since the mysterious trove was revealed two weeks ago, 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt recalled helping his father save some of the works from wartime Dresden and said the state had no right to impound treasures he called the love of his life.

Compared to the deaths of his father Hildebrand, his mother or his sister, “parting with my pictures was the most painful of all”, Gurlitt told the magazine. “I haven’t loved anything more than my pictures in my life … But hopefully it will all be cleared up soon and I will finally get my pictures back.”

Dismissing suggestions he might return some of the 1,406 paintings and drawings to survivors of Nazi persecution, the frail-looking Gurlitt insisted he inherited them legally and sold only an occasional masterpiece from his Munich apartment to cover medical and living expenses, as he claimed no pension.

“I’m giving nothing back willingly,” he said.

Customs officers found him crossing the Swiss border by train in 2010 with a large sum in cash, eventually prompting a raid on his apartment early last year. Prosecutors confiscated works by Renaissance and Modernist masters, some long thought lost in the war, others hitherto undocumented.

The authorities valued at 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) a collection that includes works by Picasso, Otto Dix, Matisse, Chagall and German expressionists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

But Gurlitt, who kept out of sight after the story broke, said he could not understand what all the fuss was about.

“I’m not Boris Becker,” he said of the former tennis star who fell foul of the tax authorities in Munich a decade ago. Complaining of journalists ringing his doorbell while he hid inside, he added: “What do these people want from me?”

“I am really very quiet,” he said of a lonely life without employment and overshadowed by the legacy of a dominant father.

“All I wanted was to live with my pictures.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.