U.S. Ex-Pilot Loses Berlin Appeal for Nazi-Looted Poster Hoard

Bloomberg 25 January 2007
Catherine Hickley

A German government panel rejected an appeal by a retired U.S. airline pilot for his father's collection of posters, looted by the Gestapo and now kept in a Berlin museum.

The panel recommended the collection should remain in the hands of the Deutsches Historisches Museum on Berlin's Unter den Linden. In a statement, it said Hans Sachs, who died in 1974, had accepted compensation for the collection and had not attempted to get it back when he discovered in 1966 that part of it survived. His son, Peter Sachs, 69, appealed for restitution in 2006.

``I don't think my client can accept any argument that his father would have preferred a German museum to have the collection than his own family,'' Sachs's lawyer, Gary Osen, said in a telephone interview after the decision. Asked whether he will take legal action to fight the ruling, Osen said, ``We're not going to decide anything this evening.''

Of some 12,500 posters amassed by Hans Sachs, about 4,000 remain in the museum, mostly in storage. Osen estimates the collection may be worth between $10 million and $50 million.

Sachs's was the latest in a series of high-profile claims for art in German museums. Berlin's city government in August forced the Bruecke Museum to return a painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to the heir of a Jewish family persecuted by the Nazis, provoking an indignant response from the museum's patrons.

`Emotional Debate'

The painting fetched $38 million at a New York Christie's International auction in November. To calm what he termed an ``emotional debate,'' Culture Minister Bernd Neumann convened a meeting of German museums the same month. That ended with a pledge to improve research into the ownership history of artworks in public collections and a renewed commitment to restitute art looted or sold under duress in the Nazi era.

Hans Sachs published a poster magazine called ``Das Plakat,'' founded a society, held exhibitions and gave lectures. His collection included posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Ludwig Hohlwein, Lucian Bernhard and Jules Cheret.

His poster collection was seized in 1938. When Gestapo officers carted off his posters, they told Sachs that Joseph Goebbels wanted them for a new museum wing dedicated to ``business'' art.

Hans Sachs was arrested on Nov. 9, 1938, the night of the pogrom against the Jews known as Kristallnacht, and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was freed after three weeks and fled to the U.S. He had smuggled out some Toulouse-Lautrec posters, which he sold to feed his family.

He never saw his collection again. Assuming it hadn't survived the war, he accepted compensation of 225,000 deutsche marks (about $50,000) from the West German government in 1961.

In 1966, he discovered that some of his collection was still intact in what was then East Berlin, the capital of communist East Germany. He made contact with the authorities, hoping at least to get the posters loaned abroad for exhibitions. He didn't succeed. He died in 1974.

Peter Sachs, who lives in Sarasota, Florida, and flew jets for U.S. Airways Inc., didn't find out about the collection's survival until 2005, while doing some research on the Internet to try to trace copies of his father's magazine.

To contact the writer on this story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at .
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