A collection of posters stolen by the Nazis will be returned to the son of its original owner

A collection of posters stolen by the Nazis will be returned to the son of its original owner

The German Federal Constitutional Court has ruled that the Museum of German History must return a collection of 4,529 posters late 19th and early 20th century to Peter sachs, the son of the original collector.

The passion of a lifetime of Hans josef sachs for graphic art, he started as a teenager in the late eighties. His roommate from the Breslau Gymnasium had a wall full of posters and Hans was excited about it.

The first acquisitions of his collection were Parisian posters designed by the master of Art Nouveau, Alphonse Mucha. When German artists in Berlin and Munich began to modernize, were welcomed into the Sachs collection. His taste was impeccable. The posters in his collection advertised food, movies, theatrical shows, political propaganda, museum exhibitions, each one peculiar, original, and printed in very small runs.

When I was only 24 years old, in 1905, already owned the largest private collection of posters in Germany. During that year, and along with five other poster lovers, founded the Verein del Plakat Freunde (the Society of Friends of the Poster). And in 1910, Das plakat (“The poster”), A magazine about posters that is considered a great influence on the history of graphic art. The society and the magazine itself gave him access to a greater number of posters for his collection. The magazine went bankrupt in 1921.

After a fire in an attic that threatened but did not damage her collection, Sachs began looking for a way to display her posters so that the public could see them. In 1926 he had built a building to house his collection. Named it Museum of Applied Arts and opened it to the public.

A dentist by profession, Sachs continued to practice until 1935, when her Jewish heritage came into conflict with the Nuremberg Laws. To protect his collection, he transferred ownership of it to the non-Jewish banker Richard Lenz. In the summer of 1938, before Lenz could take possession of the collection, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels confiscated it in its entirety, which by that time had grown to a staggering 12,500 pieces. He wanted to install the collection, undoubtedly purged of all modernism, in a museum of his property.

On November 9, 1938, Hans sachs He was arrested during Kristallnacht, the Crystal Night, and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin. He was released 20 days later, picked up his wife Felicia and their one-year-old son Peter and fled first to London and from there to New York, before the Second War will begin.

When the war ended Hans assumed that his collection had been destroyed, so he applied for compensation under the refund policy of the Federal Republic of Germany. In March 1961, the West German government paid him approximately $ 50,000 (225,000 German marks) as compensation for your loss. It seems like a small amount today, but back then it was a generous offer that everyone believed Hans would accept. And so he did.

In 1966, Sachs found that some 8,000 posters in her collection had survived the war and they were in a museum in East Berlin. He wrote to the East Berlin authorities to meet with museum officials and ask for their expertise. He also wanted to make sure if the collection was on display to the public. The East German government replied to him in July 1966, rejecting his offer since the discriminatory West German law made collaboration between experts from both countries impossible.

Hans Josef Sachs died in 1974 without ever having seen his collection again. Behind the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collection, mysteriously reduced to fewer than 5,000, was transferred to the German History Museum in Berlin where it remained mostly in storage, with only a handful of posters on display at any given time.

Hans' son, Peter sachs, did not know of the existence of the collection until 2005. As soon as he discovered it, he tried to recover it. He offered to pay the financial compensation his father received in 1961 with the corresponding value in 2005 calculated at € 600,000, but the estimated market value of the posters had risen to millions (It is considered between 6 and 21 million dollars today) Y the museum did not want to lose such an important and irreplaceable collection. He took the case to the Advisory Committee for the Return of Art confiscated by the Nazis in 2007, but as the government had paid compensation. The law was not on his side.

Peter sachs it took the case to the district court, but in 2009 it ruled in the same way as the Advisory Committee had. He kept appealing to higher courts, and now the Federal Court of Justice has ruled that Peter Sachs is, by right, the owner of his father's poster collection.

The decision warns that although Peter did not request the return in the corresponding period and despite the fact that his father had received compensation, the fact of not returning the posters “would perpetuate nazi injustice”. Because the intent of the compensation laws was return the property of which the victims of the Nazi terror were legally dispossessed, keeping the posters would completely violate the law.

The museum has accepted the sentence, even though they are grieving as the collection is, of course, a great resource for scholars of the subject. Peter Sachs, now 74, wants to fulfill his father's dream of seeing the posters on display to the public, so his top priority is to find a museum where the collection can be displayed in its entirety and in all its splendor.

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