Artwork Stolen By Nazis Returned To Family In Landmark Ruling

4,259 art posters finally to be returned to owner’s family after they were forcefully seized by the Nazis

The collection of artworks owned by Jewish dentist Hans Sachs was taken by the Gestapo in 1938. The original collection included works by Jules Cheret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Ludwig Hohlwein, and totalled 12,500 posters – the largest assembly of posters in the world at that time.

Despite on-going litigation from the owner’s descendents since 2007, the posters have been held by the German government and displayed at the German Historical Museum. In 2010, the courts overruled an earlier decision to return the posters to the Sachs family, and stated that while Hans Sachs’s son Peter owns the posters, it was not within his rights to gain possession of them.

But now a high court order has restored the posters to the Sachs. Peter called the restitution a ‘final recognition’ of what his father had lost: ‘I can’t describe what this means to me’; ‘It feels like vindication for my father, a final recognition of the life he lost and never got back.’

Peter Sachs first found out about the collection in 2005 and approached the museum, the government and the state of Berlin requesting its return in 2007. After his claim was rejected, he turned to the courts. Finally the court in Karlsruhe has ruled that an original owner had the right to artworks if they were impounded by the Nazis even if someone else subsequently believed they were the rightful owners.

But the German government is concerned that the ruling will open the floodgates to similar lawsuits from those who have already accepted compensation for lost artworks (Hans Sachs, believing the collection to be lost, received compensation of $50,000 in 1961). Peter Sachs said he was willing to return the money in return for the posters, but the museum said in a statement that it accepted the ruling, but implied that it feared the wider consequences.

The German-Jewish dentist Hans Sachs, who died in 1974, began collecting posters as an adolescent and his collection reached more than 12,000 items. He was also the founder of the magazine Das Plakat, which published posters and organized lectures and events. The Nazis seized his material in 1937, and deported Hans Sachs to a concentration camp in 1938. After his incarceration, Sachs managed to flee with his wife and young son, Peter, to the United States.


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