German museum ordered to return Nazi-seized art to Jewish owner's American son

Not to return posters taken on Goebbels' orders 'would perpetuate Nazi injustice'

Berlin

A Berlin museum must return thousands of rare posters to an American man, part of his Jewish father's unique collection that had been seized by the Nazis, Germany's top federal appeals court ruled today.

The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe confirmed Peter Sachs, 74, was the rightful owner of the posters collected by his father Hans and ruled he is entitled to receive them back from the German Historical Museum.

The ruling ended seven years of legal battles over a vast collection dating back to the late 19th century that is now believed to be worth between €4.5 million and €16 million.

The court said if the museum kept the posters it would be akin to perpetuating the crimes of the Nazis.

"I can't describe what this means to me on a personal level," Peter Sachs, who recently moved to Nevada from Sarasota, Florida, told The Associated Press in an email. "It feels like vindication for my father, a final recognition of the life he lost and never got back."

The case ended up with the Karlsruhe court because of the posters' unique and tumultuous journey through more than 70 years of German history. The posters were collected by Sachs, stolen from him by the Nazis' Gestapo, became the possession of communist East Germany for decades, and then moved to the Berlin museum after Germany's reunification in 1990.

The court acknowledged that Peter Sachs did not file for restitution of the posters by the official deadline for such claims, and that the postwar restitution regulations instituted by the Western Allies could not be specifically applied in his case. But the judges ruled that the spirit of the laws was clearly on Sachs' side.

Not to return the posters "would perpetuate Nazi injustice," the judges wrote. "This cannot be reconciled with the purpose of the Allied restitution provisions, which were to protect the rights of the victims."

Hagen Philipp Wolf, a spokesman for Germany's cultural affairs office which oversees the public German Historical Museum, said the decision would be respected.

"The Federal Court of Justice has decided, we have a clear ruling, the German Historical Museum must return the Sachs posters," he said.

A total of 4,259 posters have been identified so far as having belonged to Sachs' 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.

The German Historical Museum rarely had more than a handful of the posters on display at any given time, though it had said the collection was an invaluable resource for researchers.

Sachs' attorney in Germany, Matthias Druba, said his client now hopes that he can find a new home for the collection where they can be displayed to a wider public.

"Hans Sachs wanted to show the poster art to the public, so the objective now is to find a depository for the posters in museums where they can really be seen and not hidden away," Druba told the AP.

The posters were seized from Hans Sachs' home in 1938 on the orders of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who wanted them for a museum of his own.

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 (The Poster)."

After the seizure of the posters in the summer, Hans Sachs was arrested during the 9 November 1938 pogrom against the Jews known as Kristallnacht and thrown in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin.

When he was released about two weeks later, the family 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.

The posters became part of the German Historical Museum's collection in 1990 after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

Peter Sachs has said he only learned of the existence of the collection in 2005, and began fighting then for their return.

When he receives the posters back Sachs will repay the compensation that his father received, Druba said. He said it was not yet clear what the amount would be in current terms.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering