The names of some of the most distinguished and wealthy Jewish families in the world—Rothschild, Safra, Lauder, Ofer, Nahmad—are prominently displayed on a wall in the foyer of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. They are the founding patrons of the key cultural institution in Israel.
Among them is Ingrid Flick, who inherited through marriage the fortune of Friedrich Flick, a convicted Nazi criminal and Germany’s richest man at the time of his death in 1972.
A decade ago, Flick, who runs a foundation named after her late father-in-law, gave €600,000 (about $670,000) to the Tel Aviv Museum’s Prints and Drawings Gallery. The funds were sent through the German Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum, a fundraising group, arriving in three installments of €200,000 in 2013 and 2014, according to a spokesperson for the Flick Foundation in Düsseldorf, Germany.
The contribution, originally reported by Artnet in 2014, has resurfaced in the light of another Nazi-wealth controversy at the museum. Last week, it canceled a forthcoming conference organized by Christie’s after the auction house drew fire from Jewish groups for its sale of Heidi Horten’s jewels. Horten’s first husband, Helmut Horten, was a Nazi profiteer who augmented his department-store empire by snapping up Jewish businesses under duress as part of German’s Aryanization program.
While some applauded the museum’s decision to cancel the conference, David de Jong, the author of the book , said it was an empty gesture because the museum itself had accepted donations from German patrons, including Ingrid Flick, whose wealth could be traced to the Nazi crimes against the Jewish people.
“I find the hypocrisy of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art astounding,” de Jong said last week. “It’s not like the museum is removing her name from the lobby.”
This prompted renewed scrutiny about the museum’s acceptance of Flick’s donation. When reached for comment, a spokeswoman for the museum said that the gift was accepted by the former management.
“The current leadership of the museum is thoroughly reviewing the situation,” a spokeswoman for the museum said in response to Artnet’s inquiry. “They will assess their position regarding this donation and take appropriate action based on their assessment.”
Since Flick made the donation, museums around the world have begun to grapple with their benefactors’ source of wealth, and many have ultimately cut ties with problematic patrons. The most prominent are the Sacklers, whose names have been scrubbed from major museum buildings and galleries in the U.S., U.K., and Europe after their role in the opioid crisis was revealed.
“As a person with an affinity for art and a collector of modern art, it has been a personal desire of mine for many years to support art that is also open to the public,” Ingrid Flick said in a statement to Artnet on July 13. “The Tel Aviv Museum of Art was, therefore, only one of several institutions to which I am pleased to donate. This donation and my personal motivation to contribute to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art has nothing to do with the history of my late husband’s family. Such speculation serves only to insult the valuable work of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which I will gladly continue to support in the future.”
De Jong said this week that this kind of philanthropy is an example of reputation laundering.
In his book’s epilogue, de Jong recounted a shock after seeing Flick’s name on the wall of the Tel Aviv Museum. Ingrid was the third wife of Friedrich Karl Flick, whose father, Friedrich Flick, was “the mightiest and most ruthless of all German industrialists, who was convicted at Nuremberg and rose to become Germany’s wealthiest man in three different eras,” de Jong wrote. Friedrich Flick used slave labor at his factories and mines, including 2,600 Jewish women brought in from concentration camps. After the war, Flick fought hard to reject any compensation claim—and so did his son Friedrich Karl, according to de Jong.
“[Ingrid Flick] has never done any kind of reckoning with the Third Reich roots of her inherited fortune,” de Jong said.
David Schaecter, president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, a vocal critic of the Horten auction and Christie’s conference, said he is glad that the Tel Aviv Museum is reviewing the donation by Flick. “I hope that it removes the names of the heirs of any Nazi fortune from its walls,” he said.
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