Hoarder of Nazi-Looted Art Treasures Calls Paintings Love of His Life


He remembers playing among paintings by Liebermann, Beckmann and Chagall when he was a child. They moved with him from city to city, and hung in the living rooms and hallways. His father sorted them and loved them -- and they all bear his mark. He hung the green face by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner on the wall above young Cornelius' bed. "Hitler didn't like green faces," says Gurlitt. In the privacy of their home, the family didn't speak well of the F├╝hrer, Gurlitt recalls. His father resisted the dictator, but so surreptitiously that no one noticed it, he adds.

Hildebrand Gurlitt never bought anything from a private individual, Cornelius insists. Anything else would have been unimaginable for him. The pictures came from German museums or art dealers, Gurlitt says, adding that his father only cooperated with the Nazis because he wanted to save the paintings from being burned. And then he says: "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."

'I've Never Committed a Crime'

Now the anonymous son is in the limelight. This story is about coming to terms with German history, but it is also about Cornelius Gurlitt. After all, he's the son who inherited a treasure, yet never questioned where it came from. He had to take responsibility, but that's a difficult position to be in for someone who finds it hard to take responsibility. "I'm sure the public prosecutor will figure out what I'm going to get back," he says. "I've never committed a crime, and even if I had, it would fall under the statute of limitations. If I were guilty, they would put me in prison."

He just wants to have his pictures back. But when? And which ones? And what about his favorite pictures?

Gurlitt needs friends, family and, above all, lawyers. But he can't make up his mind: "I've never needed one before."

He is also a little disappointed with his sister Benita, who died of cancer last year. She left him alone with this burden. "She was two years younger than me and married. She should have outlived me." He gazes at his hands that he has splayed on the table. "Then she would have inherited everything, and she would have known how to deal with this. Now, everything is so miserable."

Gurlitt has to answer so many questions for which he has no answers. "I never had anything to do with acquiring the pictures, only with saving them," he says. He helped his father back in Dresden when they saved the works of art from the Russians. People should be thankful to him, he says. "My father knew the Russians were getting closer and closer."

His father quickly organized a vehicle from the carpool in Dresden, he recalls, and father and son loaded the artwork into the car. His father then brought everything to a farmer near Dresden, and later to a castle in southern Germany. He says that his father knew people everywhere in Germany.

"People only see banknotes between these papers with paint -- unfortunately," he says.

"I'm not as courageous as my father," he says. "He loved art and fought for it. The state prosecutor has to restore my father's reputation."

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