Between 1979 and 1989 Dutch art dealers bought for 60 million guilders in stolen art in the German Democratic Republic. In that way the communist regime managed to get hard foreign currency. The Amsterdam auction Chrtistie's was a key figure in the resale of art and sets an internal investigation. The Dutch actuality TV program Een Vandaag broadcasted an extensive reportage about the affair yesterday.
The art from East Germany was expropriated from citizens by a secret department of the Ministry of Commerce in East Berlin. According to Chris van Damme, art dealer in the 70s and 80s, he was the largest purchaser of art in the GDR at that time. According to Van Damme in the 80s Christie's in Amsterdam regularly received containers full of art from East Berlin. The art that was not sold at the Christies auction was then stored in Lisse at the firm Van Damme. His assertion is supported by the Berlin lawyer Ulf Bischof, who has been investigating stolen art from the GDR for decades.
Van Damme: ‘We were there every month, my father or me. But we did not know it was stolen. I hear it from you now for the first time. We were in good faith’. Lawyer Bischof criticizes Van Damme’s attitude. He sees it as naïveté: ‘If you work together with what was a dictatorship at that time, and you come into a hall with many hundreds of works of art and antiques, then you must be wondering where these pieces come from’.
At the time art collectors in the GDR received fictitious tax assessments, which they could not pay. Often collectors disappeared in prison, and their collections disappeared to the west. Christie's Amsterdam initially denied ever have heard about the looted art from the GDR to, but meanwhile has promised an investigation into the affair.