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German court mulls restitution of Nazi-seized art
BERLIN (AP) - Germany’s top federal appeals court is set to rule Friday on whether a Berlin museum must return to a Jewish man from Florida thousands of rare posters that were seized from his father by the Nazis.
Lower courts have ruled that Peter Sachs, the son of collector Hans Sachs, is the rightful owner of the vast collection of advertisements and political propaganda dating back to the late 1800s, and now believed to be worth between euro4.5 million and euro16 million ($6 million to $21 million).
What the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe must decide is whether the law provides for Sachs to get the posters back from the German Historical Museum, a decision complicated by their unique and tumultuous journey through more than 70 years of German history.
It said last month it must “review and clarify” the situation, in which the posters were stolen from Germany’s leading private collector by the Nazis’ Gestapo, moved on to the possession of communist East Germany, then to the Berlin museum after reunification _ and now through some five years of legal battles.
“Every court that’s looked at this says that Peter Sachs is the owner of the collection, so from our standpoint the worst case scenario is they say he’s the owner of the collection, but we don’t have a method to help you free your property,” said New Jersey attorney Gary Osen, one of the lawyers representing Sachs.
“It’s just a bizarre nether-world situation.”
Museum spokesman Rudolf Trabold said it is sticking to its position that the posters should remain part of an “open collection” and not with a private individual.
“We’ll have to see what the court has to say,” he said.
Sachs, 74, of Sarasota, is seeking the return of 4,259 posters that have been so-far identified as having belonged to his father. They were among a collection of 12,500 that his father owned, which include advertisements for exhibitions, cabarets, movies and consumer products, as well as political propaganda _ all rare, with only small original print runs. It is not clear what happened to the remainder.
Born in 1881, Hans Sachs was a dentist who began collecting posters while in high school. By 1905, he was Germany’s leading private poster collector and later launched the art publication Das Plakat, or The Poster.
After the seizure of the posters in the summer, Hans Sachs was arrested during the Nov. 9, 1938, pogrom against the Jews, known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, and thrown in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin.
When he was released about two weeks later, the family did not wait to see what would happen next and fled to the United States.
After the war, Hans Sachs assumed the collection had been destroyed and accepted compensation of about 225,000 German marks (then worth about $50,000) from West Germany in 1961.
He learned five years later, however, that part of the collection had survived the war and been turned over to an East Berlin museum. He wrote the communist authorities about seeing the posters or even bringing an exhibit to the West to no avail. He died in 1974 without ever seeing them again.
By Donald Lambro
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