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November 17, 2013 5:28 pm

German Recluse, Hoarder of Stolen Nazi Art, Wants His Controversial Billion-Dollar Collection Back

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avatar by Zach Pontz

Cornelius Gurlitt on the cover of Der Spiegel Magazine. Photo: Der Spiegel.

He knows of the internet but has never used it. He hasn’t watched TV since 1963. He says he has never loved another person and only wants his paintings back so as to have a little “peace and quiet.”

But that may be problematic for Cornelius Gurlitt, a German man who has unceremoniously–and much to his chagrin–been thrown into the spotlight with the recent disclosure that a treasure trove of paintings once in his possession have been seized by German authorities.

The reason for this is that it is believed many of the paintings were illegally acquired by his father, Hildebrand, a famous art-collector in Nazi Germany, from Jews fleeing the country, often with the aid of Nazi authorities.

But Gurlitt insists his father’s reputation has been unjustly ruined. He told Der Spiegel the pictures, worth an estimated $1.6 billion, came from German museums or art dealers, adding that his father only cooperated with the Nazis because he wanted to save the paintings from being burned.

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“It’s possible that my father may have been offered something privately, but he certainly didn’t accept it. He would have found that unsavory,” Gurlitt told Der Spiegel.

Gurlitt is a self-professed loner who openly admits to a bizarre connection to the paintings. Der Spiegel describes his relationship with the paintings in fantastical terms.

“He spoke to his paintings. They were his friends, the loyal companions that didn’t exist in his real life. He considered it is his life’s mission to protect his father’s treasure, and over the decades he lost touch with reality,” the magazine wrote.

Having experienced the deaths of all his family members he insists “Saying goodbye to my pictures was the most painful of all.”

“I hope everything will be cleared up quickly, so I can finally have my pictures back,” he adds.

He has received a letter informing him that a number of works of art are going to be returned to him. He doesn’t know which ones. But he doesn’t believe the public prosecutor.

The German government last week said it had determined that between 590 and 970 of the more than 1,400 artworks discovered in  Gurlitt’s Munich apartment last year were likely looted by the Nazis from Jewish collections.

Gurlitt, however, finds it difficult to reconcile the paintings’ past with his role in their preservation. “I never had anything to do with acquiring the pictures, only with saving them,” he told Der Spiegel. He says he helped his father save the paintings and that people should be thankful to him.

“They have it all wrong,” he insists. “I won’t speak with them, and I won’t voluntarily give back anything, no, no. The public prosecutor has enough that exonerates me.”

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