A special German panel ruled Thursday against returning a valuable collection of rare posters stolen by the Nazis to the son of the artwork’s Jewish owner.
Peter Sachs was only a year old in 1938 when his father’s collection of 12,500 posters was seized and his family fled Germany for the United States.
Sachs, of Sarasota, Fla., sought to have the posters returned to the family — but the panel ruled against him, citing a letter from the man’s father and a 1960s-era compensation payment as grounds for keeping them in Germany.
“I am inexpressibly saddened by the recommendation made today by the Limbach Commission,” Sachs told The Associated Press.
Sachs, 69, had been invited to address the panel in an effort to win the return of what remains of the collection: some 4,300 posters with an estimated value of between $10 million and $50 million, held by Berlin’s German Historical Museum.
It was not immediately clear what legal action Sachs might take, said his attorney Gary Osen, noting that it was “hard to fathom” that the father, Hans Sachs, would have wanted the collection to stay with a museum instead of being returned to the family.
“I don’t think that Peter Sachs can ever abide by the conclusion or the moral implication of what the commission has written,” said Osen.
The collection includes elaborate advertisements for exhibitions, cabarets and consumer products, as well as political propaganda — all rare, with only small original print runs.
Museum says family already compensated
The museum maintains that since Hans Sachs received compensation of about $50,000 from the West German government in 1961, the posters should remain in its collection.
Sachs’ main argument is that the compensation was paid when it was assumed the collection was destroyed in the war, and that once his father found out that part of it had survived, he started trying to get access to it in the East German museum where it ended up.
However, the commission cited a letter dated 1966 in which Hans Sachs expressed to a West German friend that he viewed the payment as appropriate compensation.
Hans Sachs died in 1974. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the German Historical Museum inherited the collection from its East German counterpart in 1990.
Peter Sachs testified behind closed doors before the eight-member panel, a special commission set up in 2003 under an agreement among federal, state and local governments under Jutta Limbach, a former chief justice of Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court.
The panel’s mandate is to mediate in disputes involving art looted by the Nazis from Jewish and other owners and to make recommendations.
The Nazis looted an estimated 150,000 pieces of art from Western Europe during World War II and some 500,000 pieces from Eastern and Central Europe.