Guelph Treasure should remain in Germany, commission rules

Guelph Treasure should remain in Germany, commission rules

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An advisory commission in Germany has ruled that the Guelph Treasure should remain in a Berlin museum and not be returned to the heirs of the Jewish owners who sold the medieval artefacts to the Nazi state in the 1930s.

Estimated to be worth as much as $250 million, the Guelph Treasure consists of 42 medieval relics that were originally housed in the Brunswick Cathedral in Braunschweig, Germany. During the 17th century it was part of a much larger collection that was sold to the members of the Guelph dynasty, who in turn sold them to a consortium of German-Jewish art dealers from Frankfurt in 1929.

The art dealers were able to sell about half the collection to private collectors but, because of the economic downturn of the 1930s, other buyers could not be found. Eventually the group decided to sell the remaining 42 pieces for 4.25 million Reichsmarks to the state of Prussia, which at the time was governed by Hermann Goering, one of the leading members of the Nazi party.

In January, four heirs of the Jewish sellers asked an advisory commission, headed by Dr. Jutta Limbach, to return the treasure to them, arguing that it should be treated similar to Nazi-looted art. However, the Berlin museum which holds the medieval items countered that the original sellers freely accepted the sale, which was set at a fair price. Moreover, the Guelph Treasure was not even in Germany when the purchase agreement was made.

On Thursday, the Limbach Commission ruled in favour of the Berlin museum, saying that “the sale of the Guelph Treasure can not be considered a forced sale. Therefore it can not recommend a restitution of the Guelph Treasure to the heirs of the four art dealers.”

Hermann Parzinger, President of Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation which owns the museum, said a statement that he “welcomes the carefully considered recommendation of the Advisory Commission which took into account all the facts.”

Meanwhile Markus Stoetzel, one of the lawyers of the four heirs told The Times of Israel that his clients “are disappointed about the outcome of the claim, after so many years of fighting for justice. We, the lawyers, are currently analyzing the recommendation of the Limbach Commission and are going to discuss it with our clients.”

To learn more about the Guelph Treasure, see our earlier article: Who should own this medieval treasure?

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