In one of the first affirmative steps taken by Cornelius Gurlitt since the revelation of the seizure of a large number of artworks with possible Nazi-seizure connections, Gurlitt has filed a criminal complaint concerning his allegations of violations of his privacy rights. According to Gurlitt’s attorney, “The surrender of investigative information to the press, and with it the severe damage to his personal rights is not tolerable in any way for Mr. Gurlitt. . . . This is a blatant violation of official secrecy.” Another of his lawyers went on to express concern for trust in the process in which details were being given to the media. In particular, Gurlitt’s team were most upset about photographs in the Focus piece that broke the story of Gurlitt’s apartment.
For all the legal coverage, this is one aspect that has been seldom discussed. In part, it may be because Gurlitt only recently obtained attorneys authorized to speak publicly on his behalf. But if anyone has really probed into how Focus came to know of a nearly two-year investigation that was covered by official secrecy, I have not seen it. And, as was discussed last weekend in Heidelberg, Gurlitt’s privacy rights are not going simply to be brushed away in all this, no matter what the larger issues are.
As with any tactical move, this may be intended for a variety of purposes, particularly coming as it does on the heels of statements last week that Gurlitt may be willing to discuss resolution with claimants’ families.
For other coverage of the Heidelberg conference (all in German), the Rhein-Neckar Zeitung had a good summary, though one that I thought focused too much on the last panel of the day, and which took its headline from remarks of only one participant in that final panel (who was responding to a question about German museums generally, not the Gurlitt case specifically). The JüdischeAllgemeine conducted an interview with organizer Dr. Johannes Heil at the HfJS. Finally, the Rhein-Neckar Morgenweb ran down the major themes of the day, keying (wisely) on the importance of Professor Wolfgang Ernst’s legal overview, in particular the important detail that these paintings were seized after a search on suspicion of tax evasion, not of art theft. As the article quotes Professor Ernst (anticipating the privacy issues spotlighted by Gurlitt’s complaint):
“To give them back now to the heirs of Jewish collectors, it must first be determined with certainty under what circumstances they came to be in the possession of Gurlitt and his father. A criminal offense, a theft, or a robbery would be a prerequisite”—which would have to be proved for each and every work.