Return poster collection to owner, says Germany′s top court | News | DW | 16.03.2012
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Return poster collection to owner, says Germany's top court

Germany's top appeals court has told a Berlin museum that it must return thousands of rare historical posters to a Florida man. The collection was stolen from his father, a Berlin dentist, who fled during the Nazi era.

The German Historical Museum in Berlin has been told by Germany's top appeals court to return to rare posters to a Florida man that were stolen from father by the Nazis in 1938.

Peter Sachs, the Florida-based son of the late Berlin dentist and prolific collector Hans Sachs had sought since 2005 for the return of the collection of advertisements and political posters from the museum where they ended up during the communist era in former-East Germany.

Estimates of the collection's value range between 4.5 and 16 million euros ($6 to $21 million).

The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe on Friday overruled a lower Berlin court which had asserted in 2010 that the potential inheritor's claim was void because a statutory deadline had expired.

However, not to return the posters "would perpetuate Nazi injustice," the top court judges concluded in their judgment.

Son feels vindicated

Sachs told the newswire Associated Press that he was deeply touched. "It feels like vindication for my father, a final recognition of the life he lost and never got back," he said.

Hans Sachs, born in 1881, began collecting while at high school. His collection included items dating back to the Weimar period and earlier, to the Bismarck era of the 19th Century.

They span the phase from Expressionism to Art Deco, with works from artists including Henry van de Velde, Käthe Kollwitz and Otto Dix.

In 1938 the collection comprising 12,500 items was seized on orders of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Hans Sachs, who was Jewish, was arrested during the Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, and held briefly. Upon his release days later, he and his family fled to the United States, leaving the posters in the care of the banker, Richard Lenz.

The Karlsruhe court found that the Hans Sachs collection was never sold, a finding which therefore worked in favor of Sachs' descendents.

ARCHIV - Außenansicht des Pei-Baus, ein Anbau des Deutschen Historischen Museums in Berlin (Archivfoto vom 15.01.2009). Die Kultureinrichtung hat im Streit um die bedeutende Plakatsammlung Sachs eine Niederlage erlitten. Das Berliner Landgericht entschied, das Museum müsse das Poster Der Dogge des Simplizissimus-Künstlers Thomas Theodor Heine an den Sohn und Erben des von den Nationalsozialisten enteigneten Sammlers, Peters Sachs, zurückzugeben, wie eine Gerichtssprecherin am Dienstag (10.02.2009) mitteilte. Foto: Jens Kalaene dpa/lbn (zu dpa 0642 vom 10.02.2009) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Berlin's renovated German Historical Museum

Posters vanished during WWII

In 1961, assuming his collection had vanished during the turmoil of World War II and the Cold War, Hans Sachs accepted monetary compensation, only to learn years later that some items had in fact survived in an eastern Berlin cellar.

He wrote to communist authorities, who ran the then-East Berlin Museum seeking the posters. He died in 1974 without seeing them again.

After Berlin Wall's fall in 1989, the posters became part of the repository at what became the German Historical Museum in reunified Germany. His son, Peter Sachs, said he first became aware of the posters' survival in 2005.

Peter Sachs' attorney in Germany, Matthias Druba, said his client would seek a new home for the collection "where they can really be seen and not hidden away."

"Peter is the owner, and the owner has the right to decide where the things that belong to him should be."

The German Historical Museum's trust said on Friday it would accept the Karlsruhe judgment and consult with Peter Sachs on how to proceed. A spokesman for Germany's Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Bernd Neumann said the case was complicated and his office would await the court's written judgment.

ipj/sjt (AP, dapd, epd, AFP)