Osen LLC - March 3, 2008
HEIR TO ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS POSTER COLLECTION FILES PRECEDENT SETTING LAWSUIT AGAINST GERMAN MUSEUM SEEKING RETURN OF "DIE BLONDE VENUS" STOLEN BY THE GESTAPO IN 1938
Peter Sachs, son of the famed poster collector, Hans Sachs, files suit in the district court in Berlin asking for the return of Marlene Dietrich film poster held by the Deutsche Historiches Museum (DHM) in Berlin
Berlin, Germany (March 3, 2008)-- Peter Sachs, the son of Dr. Hans Sachs, filed a lawsuit today in the district court (Landgericht) in Berlin against the Deutsche Historiches Museum ("Germn Historical Museum" or "DHM") for the return of the 1932 poster Die Blonde Venus. The poster was produced by the firm A. Scherl Berlin to promote the film by the same name, starring Marlene Dietrich and directed by Josef Sternberg. It is one of more than 4,000 currently held by the DHM that are part of the Hans Sachs Collection first stolen by the Gestapo in 1938. Considered by many to be the largest and most significant poster collection in the world, the surviving posters of the Hans Sachs Collection remain in the DHM (which inherited the collection when it took over an East Berlin museum following German reunification in 1990).
Hans Josef Sachs was born on August 11, 1881 to a Jewish family in Breslau, Germany. Although he was a dentist by trade, he began his life-long pursuit of poster art by canvassing local storekeepers for their advertising posters as a young man. Three life-size posters of Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French actress, represented Hans's first significant contributions to his collection and were followed by additional posters sent to his from his father's friend in Paris. During subsequent trips to Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, Dr. Sachs made important contacts with other poster art enthusiasts and carried dozens of posters home in his backpack. By the mid 1930s, Hans's collection had grown to 12,500 posters including those by famed artists such as Jules Cheret, Toulouse-Lautrec, Hohlwein, and Lucian Bernhard.
In 1936, after the rise of Nazi Germany, Dr. Sachs's dental license was revoked. In 1937, he was imprisoned for 24 hours at Gestapo Headquarters. Subsequently, the Gestapo removed his poster collection from his home and he never saw his life's work again. In November 1938, during Kristallnacht, ("The Night of Shattered Glass"), Dr. Sachs was arrested and spent 17 days in a concentration camp. Due to the brave efforts of his wife Felicia, he was released from concentration camp in December 1938 on the condition that he and his family leave Germany within 24 hours after his release. Sick and injured from his imprisonment, Hans fled with his wife and infant son, Peter, to America.
After World War II, Hans searched for his collection, but was advised that the collection had been completely destroyed. According to his journals, Hans concluded that his "collection was indeed irreplaceably lost," and in 1961, he accepted compensation in the amount of 225.000 Marks (approximately $50,000) from the West German government. However, in 1966, at the age of 84, Hans learned that a part of his collection had surfaced in East Berlin, but he died in 1974, never having seen his collection again.
In 2005, his only son, Peter Sachs began investigating the whereabouts of his father's collection through the internet and located references to the DHM's collection of Sachs posters. Thereafter, he retained attorneys known for their work on behalf of other Nazi persecutees. They, in turn, privately contacted the DHM to inquire if the museum would agree to discuss ownership of the collection. The museum took the position, however, that Dr. Sachs was adequately represented by a Jewish aid group when he filed his claim in 1960 in West Germany and was adequately compensated in March 1961. According to the DHM, even though Dr. Sachs believed the collection was destroyed when he accepted compensation, his widow consciously waived her rights to the collection since she made no claims to it after her husband's death in 1974.
Unable to engage the DHM in any discussion, Peter Sachs next turned to the Advisory Commission of the German Federal Government, under Chairman Jutta Limbach. After hearing testimony in January 2007, the Limbach Commission recommended that the museum not return the posters to Peter Sachs. According to the Commission, Dr. Sachs "always understood his collecting as a public service" and hence would have intended the collection to remain with DHM.
Ultimately, Peter Sachs could not allow the DHM to profit from the Gestapo's theft of this father's collection, nor could he accept the Limbach Commission's view that his father would have preferred a German museum to keep his life's work rather than return it to his only son. Regarding his decision to file a lawsuit, Peter Sachs said: "I had hoped that of all institutions, a museum dedicated to the history of Germany, would be uniquely able to understand the historical injustice done to my family and would rush to rectify it. I am now reluctantly turning to the courts in the hope that they reject both the legal and moral implications of what the German Historical Museum has done..." He added: "Win or lose, I owe it to my father to try, just as he did, to recover his life's work and lifelong passion."
Mr. Sach's U.S. lawyer explains the decision to sue for return of The Blonde Venus as an important test case. "Mr. Sachs is not a millionaire and German court proceedings can be extremely expensive," noted Gary M. Osen, of Osen LLC in Oradell, New Jersey, "but the return of The Blonde Venus would, by itself, be a powerful rebuke to the DHM and an affirmation of Germany's longstanding commitment to return stolen works of art to the heirs of Nazi victims."
Litigation in the German courts could take between 2 and 5 years, but Mr. Osen, whose firm has previously resolved other stolen property claims without litigation, says he regards the DHM's position in the Sachs case as unusual. "It really is exceptional for a German state-owned museum to so brazenly repudiate the German goverment's public commitment to return looted art. Hopefully, the Sachs case continues to be the exception that proves the rule and not the first step towards a new trend."
"Denying the past is never a good thing," he added, "but for a museum dedicated to history, it's the ultimate sin."