Nazi art pensioner says the paintings are his only friends
THE German pensioner accused of hiding a vast Nazi-era collection of artwork in his Munich flat has publicly insisted that the paintings are his "private property" and he wants them back.
In his first full interview, Cornelius Gurlitt defended his father's decision to purchase the works from the Nazis and Jewish art collectors, saying that otherwise they would have fallen into the hands of the advancing Russian army.
The reclusive 80 year-old told 'Der Spiegel' magazine that he "loved nothing more in life than my pictures", before adding: "I want them back".
The magazine said he believed the paintings to be his only friends.
German officials began an investigation into the art collection after Mr Gurlitt was subjected to a routine customs search on a train to Switzerland in 2010, and was found to be carrying €9,000 in cash.
Following a search that lasted four days, the authorities took away 1,406 works of art. The confiscated works including paintings by Marc Chagall, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
Mr Gurlitt is suspected of earning an undeclared living by selling works from the collection, many of which are believed to have been stolen from Jews or bought by his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, at rock-bottom prices from Jewish collectors eager to escape Nazi Germany.
Mr Gurlitt, who has been in hiding since news of the collection broke two weeks ago, asked the magazine: "What do these people want from me? I'm just a very quiet person. All I wanted to do was live with my pictures. I won't speak with them, and I won't voluntarily give back anything, no, no. When I'm dead, they can do with them what they want."
He denied any wrongdoing or tax or customs evasion, insisting that he occasionally sold pictures to pay medical bills. "They have it all wrong," he said.
In the interview, Mr Gurlitt described his lonely and reclusive life in a Munich flat, saying he had not watched television since 1963 and, while he had heard of the internet, he had never used it. Instead, over the decades he would while the evenings away by unpacking his personal selection of favourite works, which he kept in a small suitcase.
Sometimes he would also take an undated painting by Marc Chagall, entitled 'Allegorical Scene' from a locked wooden cupboard to gaze at it.
"He considered it is his life's mission to protect his father's treasure, and over the decades he lost touch with reality," 'Der Spiegel' reported. (© Daily Telegraph, London)