Playboy's paintings 'financed by blood money'

The Telegraph 21 September 2004
Kate Connolly

A modern art collection belonging to the grandson of a multi-billionaire Nazi industrialist who employed slave labourers is due to open in Berlin today amid seething controversy and accusations by Jewish groups that it has been financed by “blood money”.

Friedrich Christian Flick, a former playboy turned art collector, has lent 2,500 works to the Hamburger Bahnhof, a gallery in a former railway station in the heart of Berlin.

Entitled the Flick Collection, it includes impressive works by such high-profile artists as Alberto Giacometti, Bruce Naumann, Gerhard Richter and Kurt Schwitters.

It will open tonight at a glittering reception in the presence of VIPs. Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, himself an art collector, will deliver a speech.

The sticking point is that the collection was bought using Mr Flick's inheritance from his grandfather, Friedrich Flick, a convicted Nazi industrialist who produced ammunition for Hitler's regime.

Friedrich Flick used 1,000 women slave labourers in his explosives factory in Stadtallendorf who were involved in dangerous war work during which many of them died.

After the Second World War, he was sentenced by judges in Nuremberg to seven years in prison but served only three.

He rebuilt his business empire and, at his death in 1972, was No 5 on the list of the world's richest people.

What angers slave labour and Jewish groups is that, after the war, he refused to compensate those who worked in his factory.

His 77-year-old son, Friedrich Karl, and his 59-year-old grandson have pursued the same line, despite the fact that several Flick slave labourers are still alive and some of them are reportedly living in poverty.

It rankles even further, therefore, that an exhibition bearing a name that is synonymous with the Nazi era is to open in the very city in which the Flick imperium had its headquarters and whose owner regularly presented Goring with Old Masters and brought cash gifts to Himmler.

In an open letter to Mr Flick earlier this year, Salomon Korn, vice-president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, wrote: "The beautiful glow of your art collection, obtained with your grandfather's blood money, will only reflect the dark side of the Flick dynasty."

He added that the "neutral material", namely the art, could not be separated from his grandfather's crimes.

Groups representing slave labourers are due to demonstrate outside the gallery today.

Former slave labourers from Hungary and America have been invited to a seminar on the Flick empire by the Holocaust-research centre, the Fritz Bauer Institute.

The survivors are expected to give first-hand accounts of their time as Flick slaves.
Berlin artists angry at the exhibition have also hit back.

Satirical posters have appeared near the Hamburger Bahnhof, offering "free entry for slave labourers" and accusing Mr Flick of using his art collection to avoid paying £85 million in tax.
"Slave labour has contributed to the financing of his collection," Hans Haacke, a Berlin "action artist", said.

"An institution in Berlin financed by taxpayers is now offering itself apparently without any scruples, as a money-laundering channel."

However, Germany's cultural elite, including Christina Weiss, the culture minister, reject the accusations.

They say the Flick Collection, which was turned down by Zurich following stiff protests in Switzerland, is a valuable asset for a city which is trying desperately to re-establish itself as the cultural capital of Europe but is struggling to do so because of its debts of £37 billion.

Mr Flick, who will attend the gala opening today but who has been keeping a low profile since the controversy heated up in Germany, denies that his art collection is tainted.

"My grandfather had slave labourers in his firm," he admitted. "That was unjust but he was sentenced for it. That was just.

"I don't believe you can inherit guilt," said Mr Flick. "I believe you can inherit responsibility."

A spokesman for the Hamburger Bahnhof said yesterday that he had "no idea" where the proceeds from the £6 entry fee would go.

The modern art exhibition itself is expected to cost the German taxpayer more than £4 million.
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