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German recluse wants to keep Nazi-looted art trove
Son of powerful Nazi-era art dealer says will not give up paintings found in his Munich apartment without a fight. Paintings believed to be looted by Nazis, but Munich resident insists his father acquired them legally

Cornelius Gurlitt, a German recluse who hid hundreds of paintings believed looted by the Nazis in his Munich flat, says he will not give up the works without a fight, quashing hopes of a quick settlement.

 

Describing the priceless works as the love of his life, Gurlitt, 80, told Der Spiegel news weekly in an interview that his father, a powerful Nazi-era art dealer, had acquired the paintings legally and that he as his heir sees himself as their rightful owner.

 

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"I will not give anything back voluntarily," he told a reporter who said she spent 72 hours with the eccentric loner last week.

 

"I hope this gets resolved soon and I finally get my pictures back."

 

Gurlitt, who suffers from a heart condition, said he had given state prosecutors investigating him on charges of tax evasion and misappropriation of assets "enough" documents to prove his innocence.

 

He said he had never committed a crime "and even if I did, it would be covered by the statute of limitations".

 

Gurlitt said he was shocked by all the unwanted attention, including photographers besieging him outside his home and while grocery shopping.

 

"I am not Boris Becker, what do these people want from me?" he said, referring to the German former tennis great.

 

"I just wanted to live with my paintings."

 

Piece from collection displayed online (Photo: EPA) (Photo: EPA)
Piece from collection displayed online (Photo: EPA)

 

Gurlitt is the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of a handful of dealers tasked by the Nazis with selling confiscated, looted and extorted works in exchange for hard currency.

 

While he sold many of the works, he kept a vast trove for himself. Most of the collection was believed lost or destroyed but surfaced during a routine customs investigation at Gurlitt's flat in February 2012 and confiscated.

 

 (Photo: EPA) (Photo: EPA)
(Photo: EPA)

 

The more than 1,400 works are currently in storage at a secret location.

 

German authorities kept the case under wraps, arguing that they did not want to set off a deluge of fraudulent ownership claims for the hoard, which includes works by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Renoir and Delacroix.

 

Jewish families and museums which have come forward to say that paintings in the collection were taken from them more than 60 years ago have criticised the fact that it took a German magazine, Focus weekly, to bring the spectacular find to light this month.

 

Seversl works were sold by Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister (Photo: EPA) (Photo: EPA)
Seversl works were sold by Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister (Photo: EPA)

 

Focus reported Sunday that members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's staff and state authorities in Bavaria where Gurlitt lives wanted to cut a deal with him.

 

It said the criminal probe against him could be dropped if he were willing to cede any claim to the paintings.

 

But Gurlitt's defiant stance in the Spiegel interview raised serious doubts about whether such an agreement could come together.

 

Gurlitt railed to Spiegel against a decision announced by a government task force last week to put pictures of 590 of the artworks believed to have been stolen or taken under duress from Jewish collectors by the Nazis on its official claims website www.lostart.de.

 

"What kind of state is it that displays my private property?" he said.

 

Gurlitt said he would have been willing to talk to state prosecutors before they seized the works from his home.

 

"They could have waited with the pictures until I was dead," he said.

 

"Why didn't they just leave the pictures where they were and only pick up the ones they wanted to investigate?"

 

He described himself as a "quiet" man who had never been in love.

 

"I didn't love anything more than those paintings," he said.

 

 

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