Helmut Horten became wealthy in the 1930s by buying German Jewish businesses at a fraction of their value from owners forced to sell.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Famed auction house Christie’s was criticized Wednesday for the launching of a sale of jewels owned by the widow of a Nazi profiteer who became wealthy by taking advantage of Jews who were forced to sell their businesses in Germany and other countries both prior and during World War II.
Helmut Horten started his buying spree in 1933, after the Nazis passed a law stating that only Aryans were permitted to own companies, Dutch historian David De Jong told the New York Post. De Jong wrote about Horten’s empire-building in his recently published book, “Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties.”
Coerced by the authorities or Horten himself, he “would often buy businesses for 65 percent of their value,” said De Jong. “Jewish families sold their companies to get the hell out of Germany.”
The historian said that although Horten became a member of the Nazi party in 1937, he did so out of greed and not because he believed in its ideology.
“He was a sheer opportunist who saw an opportunity to grow from a small business owner to a department store mogul by the end of World War II.”
Horten then expanded his reach to German-occupied Amsterdam, where the Nazi authorities coerced department-store owners to sell their businesses to him.
Author Stephanie Stephan wrote a book about how Horten worked his deals, since her father worked in Amsterdam’s largest department store and was fired because he had “advised the owner not to sell,” she told the Post.
Horten bought the store at a low price. After the war, Stephan’s father filed a lawsuit in Germany against Horten but lost, “since most of the judges were old Nazis, and Horten had good relationships with them,” she said.
Stephan slammed the auction house for how it has dealt with the issue.
“For Christie’s, this auction is a matter of prestige and a matter of sales,” she told the Post. “[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.”
Christie’s issued several statements in its defense.
CEO Guillaume Cerutti said the company is “aware” of “the well-documented business practices of Mrs. Horten’s late first husband during the Nazi era when he purchased Jewish businesses sold under duress.” All the proceeds from the sale, he said, “will be directed to a foundation which supports philanthropic causes, including healthcare, children’s welfare and access to the arts.”
According to estimates, the sparkly estate of Heidi Horten, who married Helmut Horten in 1966 when she was 19 and he was around 50, will fetch some $150 million. Among the many items is a 90-carat Briolette of India necklace believed to have once been owned by Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine, which is valued at up to $15.6 million alone.
Whether the billionaire heiress knew how her husband amassed his fortune is open to question, but both Stephan and De Jong believe she did, as she had once engaged a historian to research his past. The subsequent report understated his profiteering, which didn’t surprise Stephan at all.
“It was clear to me that she wanted Helmut’s past to be put in a better light and glossed over,” she said.
There is no question that the jewelry was all bought legally. It is only the source of the wealth that allowed these purchases that buyers may – or may not – find repugnant.
Source: World Israel News