German panel offers $100,000 for Nazi-looted Guarnerius

German panel offers $100,000 for Nazi-looted Guarnerius


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2016

A German conciliation panel has proposed a payment of around $100,000 to heirs of a Jewish instrument dealer from Speyer who was forced to sell his 1706 Guarnerius to the Nazis at a knockdown price.

Felix Hildesheimer committed suicide in 1939.

His wife Helene reached the USA.

The violin was bought in 1974 by the German soloist Sophie Hagemann and left on her death in 2010 to a foundation in Nuremberg for use in local concerts.

The conciliation panel has valued the violin at $158,000 and proposed that two-third of this sum be paid to Mrs Hildesheimer’s grandsons.

Read the Deutsche Welle report.

It remains to be seen whether the Hildesheimer heirs accept the conciliation panel’s offer.


  • David Osborne says:

    I wouldn’t if I were them. A Guarnerius? “Tell ’em they’re dreamin’ “(a popular cultural reference only Australians are likely to get)…

  • Ross says:

    158k for a Guarnerius?
    I’ll gladly pay $160 for it.

  • Steven Honigberg says:

    Highway robbery. Should be $3 million at the very least.

    • Max Grimm says:

      No highway robbery. The instrument is not by Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri (del Gesù, who would have been a child of 8 years at the time the violin was made) but by his father Giuseppe Giovanni Battista Guarneri (filius Andreae).
      The record price achieved for one of his instruments at auction is less than $500.000.

  • 2nd violinist says:

    Also, reading the German article, it says the instrument is from the workshop of Guarnerius, so not actually made by him, which would have an effect on the value. I have to say that if I was a descendant, I’d much prefer to get back the actual violin rather than any amount of monetary compensation.

    • Wai Kit Leung says:

      I guess it also depends on whether the descendants are musical or not. Keeping an antique violin in good condition takes a bit of work, and if there are multiple descendents things can get complicated …

      • Max Grimm says:

        The descendants’ musical skill is of no importance and the most complicated question will be how to divide the money.
        The violin will remain with the foundation that ownes it, the Franz Hofmann und Sophie Hagemann Stiftung. The descendants will receive €100,000 as compensation for the presumably coerced bargain price the instrument was originally sold at.

        • V.Lind says:

          PRESUMABLY coerced?

          It might, as has been implied above, be more appropriate to offer something resembling its current worth. If an independent evaluation has come up with the $100,000 figure, there it is, but I doubt it. On the strength of other offers of compensation by governments for comparable looted items, it will be the bare minimum that is not positively risible.

          • Max Grimm says:

            Yes, presumably.
            PRESUMABLY – adverb, used to convey that what is asserted is very likely though not known for certain.

            While I personally believe the original purchase price to have been coerced, I do not know that for certain and therefore see no issue using said adverb.

            And if you read the DW article, you will find:
            “Eine Schlichtungskommission des Deutschen Zentrums Kulturgutverluste ist nach mehrjähriger Recherche zu dem Ergebnis gekommen: Es sei nicht eindeutig nachzuweisen, dass der jüdische Instrumentenhändler Felix Hildesheimer aus Speyer 1938 von den Nazis gezwungen wurde, die Violine zu verkaufen. Die Wahrscheinlichkeit eines damals üblichen Zwangsverkaufs oder einer Beschlagnahmung sei allerdings sehr hoch.”

            As for your second paragraph, “Alexander” (second comment from the top) posted a link to a press release, explaining current market value, the financial breakdown and that all involved are apparently satisfied with the proposal.

          • Max Grimm says:

            For those who don’t speak German, there is a English language DW article on the matter from over two years ago (I don’t know if Norman reported on it then already or missed it).

  • David Osborne says:

    Even instruments by the lesser names in Italian violin-making of that era are asking 1-2 hundred thousand these days…

  • BillG says:

    What’s this the possibility that the NAZI would not coerce a Jew to sell something at a large mark down.

    Now that,sir, is a mind boggling thing.

  • Frank says:

    There is one del Gesu that seems to have an interesting history in this regard, at least according to Tarisio: