Discussions about art dealer Cornelius Gurlitt and his inheritances are alive and well, even six months after the death. British broadcaster BBC used this case to come to the rather generalised conclusion that Germans have not yet dealt sufficiently with their historical past. There is no doubt, that the findings in Gurlitt’s apartment brought to surface some very dark hours of Germany’s past, but the investigative research into this case was by no means – as the BBC documentary suggests – unethical, nor were the rights of the victims trampled on.
For our Arte documentary “Gurlitt and the Secret of the Nazi Treasure” we extensively researched this story and made clear that it is difficult to take a stand in the case surrounding Cornelius Gurlitt. People wanting to flee the Nazi regime and to finance their escape sold their valuable artworks to Cornelius Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, an art dealer during the Nazi era, who bought the paintings and saved them from destruction by the Nazis. Cornelius Gurlitt inherited his father’s paintings but the collection was confiscated by German police. The appointed prosecution had to work through numerous laws and acts to be able to give this case an appropriate and dignified hearing.
This is a thrilling law case that brings to surface many facets of the German past and its dealing with it. None of those are any indication that Germany has no interest in coming to terms with its past – quite the opposite in fact.