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


Actually he wanted to part with the Liebermann, but he couldn't get it off the wall. "So I took the Beckmann," he says, noting that it was "solidly" packed. A beautiful painting, typical of Beckmann, and a key work, but Gurlitt urgently needed money. Even back then, he was constantly traveling to see his doctor in the small town.

We arrive at a hotel -- a white three-story building. There is no one at the reception. He always stays here. He rings from the reception to find out his room number, and the golden keychain is hanging for him on the door. There are no people and it's quiet. The room has plastic curtains decorated with tulips and gerberas, fluorescent lights and pictures on the wall that look like they come from a mail order catalogue. "Very nice," says Gurlitt.

He has index cards with the sentences that he wants to read out to the doctor to make a good impression. Gurlitt doesn't often speak with people. On the night before his doctor's appointment, he decides to go to bed at 6 p.m. so he can get up again at 2 o'clock in the morning. His appointment isn't until 8:40 a.m., but he needs time to prepare himself. He's had a bleeding wound on his foot for months, and he wants to wrap it with a new bandage.

'I've Really Missed The Paintings'

The next morning he calls a taxi to travel the 300 meters (1,000 feet) to the doctor's office. When we arrive, there is €3.40 on the meter, but he gives the driver €20 -- after all, it has to be worth the cabbie's while. The doctor tells Gurlitt that morning that his heart is weaker than usual, but that's due to all the excitement.

Back at the hotel room, he sits on his bed. Gurlitt is wearing his dressing gown under a long gray coat. He seems relieved. The nightlight is on.

Gurlitt sees his paintings in the newspapers. He's appalled. "What kind of state is this that puts my private property on display?" he asks. Gurlitt has tears in his eyes. He whispers: "They have to come back to me."

The next morning, Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback is quoted in the newspaper as saying that the authorities should definitely speak with Gurlitt.

It's painful to see Gurlitt being slowly consumed by despair. "They have it all wrong," he says. "I won't speak with them, and I won't voluntarily give back anything, no, no. The public prosecutor has enough that exonerates me."

Gurlitt hopes the paintings that are rightfully his will soon be returned. He would still like to sell one work, though, perhaps the Liebermann -- if he is entitled to it, as he puts it -- to pay his hospital bills. The remaining paintings should be returned to his apartment, he says. The Chagall will then be put back into the cupboard, and the painting of the woman playing the piano will go in the hallway, where his mother always hung it.

"I've really missed the paintings -- I notice that now." He says there has been enough public exposure -- of him and his paintings -- and he won't give them to any museum in the world. They have enough other things that they can exhibit, he contends.

"When I'm dead, they can do with them what they want." But until then, he wants to have them for himself. Then he'll finally have a bit of "peace and quiet" again.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan and Paul Cohen

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