The Holocaust Educational Trust has branded the multimillion-dollar auction of jewels that belonged to a billionaire Nazi widow a "true insult to victims of the Holocaust".
Christie’s auction house is putting 700 pieces of Nazi-linked jewellery up for sale, estimated to be worth more than $150 million (£118 million). Approximately 100 pieces are to be sold in Geneva on Wednesday, May 10, and another 150 on Friday, with more sold online later this year.
Among the items going on sale include the 90-carat “Briolette of India” diamond necklace, and the “Sunrise Ruby”, a diamond ring by Cartier that is worth upwards of $20 million.
The jewels are currently owned by the estate of Heidi Horten, who was married to a prominent Nazi who made his fortune seizing assets from Jews who fled the country.
Helmut Horten, who died in Switzerland in 1987, amassed a huge fortune during the war year and his store Horten AG became one of the most prominent in Germany in the subsequent decades.
His wife, Heidi Horten, died last year aged 81 with a fortune of $2.9 billion, according to Forbes.
Despite the proceeds going to charity, including Holocaust education and research, and Christie’s making a “significant contribution” to good causes, the Holocaust Educational Trust in the UK has called for the sale to be halted.
Chief executive Karen Pollock said: "The items being sold by Christie’s were acquired with wealth which was at least partly accumulated through the Nazi dispossession of Germany’s Jews.
"The Holocaust brought theft on an enormous scale, not only by the German state but also by ordinary people of every nation who took advantage of the persecution or murder of their Jewish fellow-citizens for personal gain. This was especially true of unscrupulous businessmen who exploited Nazi ‘Aryanisation’ laws to make fortunes, and unfortunately, full restitution of the property and wealth stolen during the Holocaust has never been achieved.
"We therefore urge Christie’s to put this sale on hold until sufficient research can be carried out into the origins of the wealth with which this collection was bought, and, once it is completed, to make arrangements for a share of the proceeds equivalent to the portion of the Horten fortune derived from exploitation of Jews to be earmarked to supporting survivors of the Holocaust and their families.
"It would be a true insult to the victims of the Holocaust for profits from these sales to then be put into a foundation bearing the name of a man who profited from their suffering."
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) have said it is “not enough” and called for the sales to be halted.
“The auction should be put on hold until a serious effort is made to determine what portion of [Horten’s] wealth came from Nazi victims,” the AJC said.
Following that, the riches should go “to the needy and infirm Holocaust survivors who are still among us and the educational programs that tell their stories,” the group added.
The "Briolette of India", a 90.36 carat, colourless diamond and necklace was part of the collection (Credit: Getty)
In a letter to the auction house, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a US-based Jewish human rights group, demanded the cancellation of the sales.
They said: “The Hortens’ billions used to build this collection were also the sum of profits from Nazi ‘Aryanization’ of Jewish department stores,”
Aryanization is a term used by the Nazis for the forced handover of property from Jews to non-Jews, and the exclusion of Jews from business.
Yonathan Arfi from the Council of Jewish Institutions in France told the BBC: "Not only did the funds that allowed the purchase of this jewellery come in part from the Ayranisation of Jewish property... this sale is also to finance a foundation (the Horten Foundation) with the mission to safeguard the name of a former Nazi for posterity."
In a statement to the JC, Anthea Peers, President of Christie’s EMEA, defended the sale which was made “after careful consideration.”
“We were aware of the history of Helmut Horten’s actions during the Nazi period, when he purchased Jewish businesses that were sold under duress. His activities were well documented and provided the foundation for his later wealth. However—and without ignoring or excusing Mr. Horten’s actions in any way— the jewellery collection of his wife, Heidi Horten, was assembled decades later, between the beginning of the 1970s and 2022, the year of her death,” Peers said.
She added that all of the Estate’s proceeds from the sale will be donated to “a foundation that supports philanthropic causes, including medical research, children’s welfare, and access to the arts, pursuant to Mrs. Horten’s wishes.
"This charitable dimension was an essential element in Christie's decision to take on the sale. Christie’s has also committed to donate a significant portion of our commission to organizations that contribute to vitally important Holocaust research and education.”