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


The Swiss Incident

The life of Cornelius Gurlitt has become an infinite loop of remorse and coincidence. It was pure chance that he was the one who survived everything. It was also pure chance that he boarded a train with €9,000 in his pocket and attracted the attention of customs agents -- and that he first lied and then was caught red-handed when they searched him in the toilet. The Swiss incident annoys him terribly. He says he sold a painting there over 20 years ago and deposited the money on a Swiss bank account. The art dealer took care of the transport -- he had nothing to do with that, he contends. "I have never illegally taken anything not cleared by customs over the Swiss border," he says.

He claims he has never had income in Switzerland, and never received interest payments. "They should just ask in Switzerland, and then they would realize that I don't have anything there," he says. German railway operator Deutsche Bahn could have given him a note, he insists -- one that says that customs officials also look for money on the trains, not just for goods. Then he never would have boarded that train.

The ICE enters Augsburg station. "The public prosecutor I sent all the documents to is here in Augsburg," says Gurlitt. "I don't understand why he hasn't contacted me."

He says he sent the public prosecutor a photo of his parents' burnt-down house in Dresden. He included old newspaper articles to document the smear campaign against Hildebrand Gurlitt that led to "his father's downfall." Gurlitt doesn't understand why all of this has become public. Courts and judges have to decide on this, and he only has to justify himself to them, he argues. The public prosecutor told him that he would eventually receive an indictment, but nothing has come so far, except for the paparazzi at his front door. "I'm not a murderer, so why are they chasing me?"

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. "I have never wanted anything from the state." He says he never claimed a penny in benefits. He talks about Hartz IV, Germany's program of benefits for the long-term unemployed, as if it were an unknown disease. He always promptly pays his property tax. Otherwise he says he has had nothing to do with German authorities. Gurlitt receives no pension and has never had health insurance. He has always had his German passport renewed at the consulate in Salzburg, but it expired nearly two years ago.

Sales to Help Pay for Medical Treatment

The last time he was in Austria, at his house in Salzburg, he was taken to hospital because he couldn't walk anymore. It was heart trouble. He had to stay in a clinic for an entire month where an alarm sounded if he got out of bed. "As if I were a criminal," says Gurlitt.

But his health has deteriorated in recent years. He has had additional hospital stays and suffered from cataracts. Gurlitt always paid the doctors in cash. In the fall of 2011, he delivered the "Lion Tamer" by expressionist Max Beckmann to the Lempertz auction house in the western German city of Cologne. He says their lawyer was very nice -- and everything was straightened out with the heirs. The painting was sold for €725,000 ($978,000) and Gurlitt received nearly €400,000, with the rest going to the heirs.

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