Holzinger: 'A very good day for Cornelius Gurlitt'

Deutsche Welle 11 April 2014
By Birgit Görtz

Gurlitt spokesperson Stephan Holzinger tells DW what's next for pieces of art suspected to have been looted by Nazis but which prosecutors decided should be returned to the man who stashed them away for years.

Bernhard Kretschmar's painting Tram

German prosecutors in the city of Augsburg reversed the seizure of art collector Cornelius Gurlitt's collection on the basis of new evidence.

Investigators had confiscated 1,280 paintings from Gurlitt's Munich apartment in 2012 because of a suspected tax offense. In the course of the investigation, new evidence has appeared which, authorities said, led them to re-evaluate the legal situation.

The 81-year-old Gurlitt and his lawyers had reached an agreement with German authorities on Monday (07.04.2014) according to which Gurlitt is willing to let experts from the task force investigate his collection.

Works of art proven to be stolen by the Nazis will be given back to the rightful owners. Works of art that are indisputably his will be returned to Gurlitt within a year.

DW: How is Mr. Gurlitt feeling and where is he?

Stephan Holzinger: His health condition remains poor. To protect his privacy I'd rather not comment on his exact whereabouts.

Can you tell us whether he is in Germany or in Austria?

He is here in Germany.

Prosecutors in Augsburg has just reversed the seizure of Cornelius Gurlitt's collection based on the grounds that new findings have come up in the course of the investigation proceedings. What does that mean?

Cornelius Gurlitt's door sign in Salzburg

Cornelius Gurlitt's father Hildebrand worked for the Nazis selling "degenerate art"

I hope you understand that I do not want to comment on the statements of the department of public prosecution and what new findings they are referring to. But it's a fact that the seizure has now voluntarily been reversed. I'm sure they had good, if not even very good, reasons for that.

We were completely convinced that the regional court in Augsburg would have reversed the seizure soon anyway, given its severe short-comings and our detailed appeal. Maybe the public prosecutors' office simply got ahead of a verdict. For us the repeal of the seizure order is another important step for the rehabilitation of Cornelius Gurlitt. And so it's a very good day for Cornelius Gurlitt.

What about the suspicions of tax and property law crimes? Are they being put aside?

No, the investigation proceedings of the prosecutors' office in Augsburg are, in fact, not affected by the repeal of the seizure order, neither formally nor legally. These investigation proceedings will continue. We'll see how they will develop in the future. I don't want to speculate about that.

What motivated Mr. Gurlitt to accept the agreement reached on Monday? Does it have something to do with him wanting a rehabilitation of his name?

Lion Tamer Max Beckmann Cornelius Gurlitt

Gurlitt has already given back this work of art by Max Beckmann

There are many good reasons. Long before this topic even went public, Mr. Gurlitt had given back, or to be more precise collectively auctioned off, Max Beckmann's "The Lion Tamer." It's very important to him that the media coverage, which was extremely one-sided at the very beginning, will become more nuanced. I would like to note that the agreement reached on Monday, which Mr. Gurlitt is committed to and which he personally signed, has created a situation - and here I have to quote [the German daily newspaper] taz: "This man shamed Germany" - in which Mr. Gurlitt has done more and has been willing to do more by now than the Federal Republic of Germany has done in the last decades. The Federal Republic of Germany hasn't done its homework when it comes to Nazi looted art.

What's going to happen to the works of art now?

We will soon comment on the question how we will deal with this new situation. You can assume that we will look for an efficient and inexpensive method, but obviously we also have to take security concerns into account. Transporting the works of art concerned back to the apartment and pretending nothing ever happened is obviously not the answer. That's not possible for security reasons.

Will we be able to see the works of art one day?

I don't want to speculate about that. It's originally a private collection. We can't forget that. You'd have to open up every apartment in Germany to make the claim that the pictures should all be on display.
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