A German recluse who kept a secret trove of art that authorities say includes works stolen by the Nazis, said Sunday that he “loved” the works and won’t hand them over.
In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel, 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt was quoted saying he had legally inherited the collection from his father.
He told the magazine he hid the 1,400 pieces of valuable art in his Munich apartment for half a century because he wanted to protect the collection.
“Voluntarily I am not going to return anything,” he said, according to the magazine.
German officials who seized the paintings last year say they suspect Gurlitt’s late father, Hildebrand, may have acquired pictures seized from Jews by the Nazis.
The magazine quotes Gurlitt saying that his late father never bought art from private individuals, only museums or dealers.
But several heirs of Holocaust survivors have already come forward to claim some of the 1,406 works whose existence was revealed by German magazine Focus two weeks ago, The Associated Press reported.
“I did not love anything more than the pictures,” Cornelius Gurlitt said in the Spiegel interview.
Focus also reported that the German chancellery, and Bavarian justice authorities, want to convince Gurlitt to voluntarily hand over the paintings to the government in return for legal proceedings being dropped.
Prosecutors said at a news conference on Nov. 5 that they didn’t know Gurlitt's whereabouts.
Meanwhile, two journalists from French magazine Paris Match last Sunday reported that they saw Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich, pushing a shopping cart.
NBC News' Alastair Jamieson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.