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Claims Rejected

DW staff (win)January 26, 2007

A German government commission has ruled that some 4,000 posters worth millions shouldn't be returned to the family of a Jew who the Nazis stripped of his possessions. The family is thinking of taking the case to court.

The German Historical Museum gets to keep the art while the heirs mull legal stepsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Members of Germany's commission on returning art stolen by the Nazis said the poster collection's former owner, Hans Sachs, had made it clear that he felt he had already received adequate compensation for the loss of the collection which was originally made up of around 12,500 posters and 18,000 small drawings and stolen by the Nazis in 1938.

Deutschland Bernd Neumann Staatsminister für Kultur und Medien
Bernd NeumannImage: AP

"The commission has reached a fair and just decision," said German Culture Secretary Bernd Neumann.

Sachs emigrated to the US with his family in 1938 after the Nazis imprisoned him at Sachsenhausen concentration camp for two weeks. In 1961, the West German government paid 225,000 deutsche marks (about 112,500 euros or $146,000) in compensation. At the time, Sachs believed that his collection had been lost in the war.

Protecting treasures

Five years later, he found out that parts of his collection had resurfaced in an East Berlin museum. He tried to get permission to view it, but East German officials did not grant him that wish before he died in 1974.

Sammlungsdepot des Deutschen Historischen Museums in Berlin
The collection is stored at the museum along with busts of Lenin and HitlerImage: AP

"I'm certain that West and East Germany will know to protect their treasures," he allegedly wrote in the early 1970s. In 1966, Sachs also was said to have written to a West German friend indicating that he had no further claims.

But on Thursday, Sachs's son told the commission that he would certainly have wanted to see the collection return to the family. It includes ad posters for goods, concerts, exhibitions and plays as well as political propaganda posters, and is estimated to have a value of up to $50 million (38.5 million euros.)

Decision "morally unacceptable"?

"Anyone who believes that my father was happy that an East German museum acquired his stolen collection, or that he would have wanted it kept from his own family, cannot truly understand the moral implications of those words," said Peter Sachs, 69, adding that he was "inexpressibly saddened" by the commission's decision.

Peter Sachs' lawyer called the commission's ruling "morally unacceptable" and added that he was considering the possibility of taking legal steps against it.

Doing justice to the collection

Jutta Limbach auf der Frankfurter Buchmesse für Frauengalerie
Goethe Institute President Jutta Limbach heads the advisory panelImage: dpa

Commission members meanwhile called on the German Historical Museum to "do justice" to Sachs' achievements as a collector and pioneer of poster art by caring for and exhibiting the collection. They also said that the posters should be presented as "Collection Hans Sachs" and documented in a catalogue that includes the collection's history.

"This is in line with the intentions of the son and heir, Peter Sachs, not to let this unique collection fade from memory," commission members wrote in a statement.