In November 2013 the world was stunned when eighty-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt became an international media superstar. More than 1,400 works of art—valued at $1.35 billion—were confiscated from his 1,076-square-foot Munich apartment. Author Susan Ronald had come across his secret some fifteen years earlier and couldn’t interest publishers in his story.
Gurlitt became known as a man who never was: he didn’t have a bank account, never paid taxes, never received a state pension. He simply did not exist. He had been hardwired into a life of shadows and secrecy by his own father long before he inherited the art collection built on the spoliation of museums and Jews during Hitler’s Third Reich. The ensuing media frenzy unleashed international calls for restitution, unsettled international relations, and rocked the art world.
Ronald reveals in this stranger-than-fiction tale how Hildebrand Gurlitt succeeded in looting in the name of the Third Reich, duping the Monuments Men and the Nazis alike. As an ‘official dealer’ for Hitler and Goebbels, Hildebrand Gurlitt became one of the Third Reich’s most prolific art looters. Yet he had the nerve to also steal from Hitler, allegedly to save modern art. This is the untold story of Hildebrand Gurlitt, who stole more than art—he stole lives too.