Gemälde im Stil des Impressionismus, das eine Familie - Vater, Mutter und zwei Söhne im Teenageralter zeigt.
Jakob Nussbaum: The Flersheim family, 1904.

Historisches Museum Frankfurt am Main / Horst Ziegenfusz

In happier times

A family in the garden. In the center is the mother in a pale-colored summer dress, with her hair up. The father stands casually alongside her. Their two sons seem unsure of what to make of having to sit still for hours to be painted. The sun shimmers through the green foliage. A glorious summer’s day in Frankfurt am Main in 1904.

Gemälde im Stil des Impressionismus, das den Maler Jakob Nussbaum zeigt, gekleidet in einen hellen Anzug mit Krawatte und einen Malerkittel. Er hält in der linken Hand eine Palette, in der rechten Hand einen Pinsel.
Ottilie Roederstein: The painter Jakob Nussbaum, 1909.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 🔍 Hover over image to enlarge

A meeting point for art enthusiasts

The lady in the pale-colored dress is Florence Mary Flersheim, née Livingstone, an American from San Francisco. She was married to the Frankfurt entrepreneur Martin Flersheim and the couple had two sons – Herbert and Fritz. The Jewish artist Jakob Nussbaum, who painted the family portrait, was a family friend. Alfred Wolters, director of the Städtische Galerie (Municipal Gallery) in Frankfurt, recalled: “I saw Nussbaum on many occasions while he was still in Frankfurt, for example at the Sunday evening get-togethers at the home of Martin Flersheim, who loved art and was an avid art collector and patron. Anyone from Frankfurt with a passion for art and the art world would gather at Martin Flersheim’s beautiful home with its ostentatious extension built to accommodate his gallery.”

Frankfurt - city of art

 Historische schwarz-weiß-Fotografie einer großen Straßenkreuzung mit einem Springbrunnen.
Kaiserplatz in Frankfurt, 1920s.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2009-0145

As a bourgeois city-republic, Frankfurt is notable for its public spirit. It was not the aristocracy who built the museums here. Instead, the art and culture scene was funded by the liberal bourgeoisie, including many Jewish citizens.

Ölgemälde. Ein älterer Mann sitzt an der Außenwand einer Hausruine im Wald und liest. Vor ihm sitzen zwei Kaninchen.
Carl Spitzweg: The Hermit in front of His Retreat, 1844.

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main 🔍 Hover over image to enlarge

Martin Flersheim is also actively involved in the community and supports artists, cultural institutions, and museums. The Städel Museum in Frankfurt still has a number of paintings donated by Flersheim on display.

The Flersheims: a family of entrepreneurs from Frankfurt

The brothers Martin and Ernst Flersheim run a successful import business. Together with their wives they amass extensive and important art collections, participated actively in cultural life in Frankfurt, and cultivated friendships with artists.

Ernst Flersheim recalled: “We started our art collection soon after we got married […]. Our preference was for works by contemporary German painters, some of whom we knew personally, for example Steinhausen and Trübner. We were particularly friendly with the Frankfurt painter Jakob Nussbaum. We also regularly had the opportunity to meet artists at one of the many get-togethers held at the home of my brother Martin, who had an important art collection.”

Ernst Flersheim remembers his visit to Rodin. Ernst Flersheim: Lebenserinnerungen, S. 20. Leo Baeck Institute Archives, New York.

In the international art world

The Flersheim are also at home at the international art world. They are friends with the Spanish painter Ignacio Zuloaga, and while in Paris, go and visit the sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Friendship with the artist Jan Toorop

Historische Fotografie. Drei Männer und eine Frau sitzen auf Korbstühlen unter einem Sonnensegel.
Jan Toorop, Gertrud Flersheim, Ernst Flersheim and Jakob Nussbaum in Domburg, 1908.

Toorop Collection, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

Fhe Dutch painter Jan Toorop was also among Ernst and Gertrud Flersheim’s circle of friends. They probably got to know each other in 1905 when Toorop had an exhibition in Frankfurt. The Flersheims visited the artist in the Dutch coastal resort of Domburg on a number of occasions. Ernst Flersheim described the painter as follows in his memoir: “He was an incredibly kind and deeply religious man; he was very musical and often improvised on the piano. I’ll never forget our frequent evening strolls together, when he would talk about the way he saw the world and open our eyes to the beauty of nature.”

Grafik. Ein älterer Mann steht vor einem halb geöffneten Fenster. Im Hintergrund ist ein großer Kirchturm.
Jan Toorop: Trust in God, 1907.

UB Heidelberg, https://doi.org/10.11588/diglit.7005#0344

The Flersheims purchase a number of Toorop’s works, including Godsvertrowen (Trust in God).

Death in Bergen-Belsen

“In January 1933 Hitler came to power – it is clear what that meant for Jews in Germany,” writes Ernst Flersheim. He flees to Amsterdam with his wife in 1937. They assume that the Netherlands would be a safe haven, but the German Wehrmacht occupies the country in 1940. In February 1944 the Flersheims are deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they were murdered.

Karteikarte, auf der handschriftlich die Lebensdaten von Ernst Flersheim notiert sind.
Karteikarte, auf der handschriftlich die Lebensdaten von Gertrud Flersheim notiert sind.
Index cards from the registry of the Jewish Council (Judenrat) in Amsterdam.

Joods Cultureel Kwartier Amsterdam

Historische Fotografie. Ein Brautpaar, die Frau in weiß gekleidet mit langem Schleier, hält einen großen Blumenstrauß, der Mann in schwarzem Anzug. Sie stehen vor einer Wand mit Gemälden. Neben ihnen große Blumenbouquets.
Die Hochzeit von Edita und Georg, 1920.

Michael Eberstadt

From England to the USA

Edita Flersheim, the daughter of Gertrud and Ernst, marries the banker Georg Eberstadt in 1920. They emigrate to England in the summer of 1936 with their children Brigitte and Walter.

Ein junger Mann in Uniform. Er lächelt und hält eine Tabakspfeife im Mundwinkel.
Walter Eberstadt as lieutenant, 1943.

Michael Eberstadt

Walter studies in Oxford, but after a year joins the British Army and fights in Normandy. After the war he returns to Germany with the army to serve in the British zone of occupation. As he knows German and is familiar with the country, the Allies commission him to establish the station Radio Hamburg (later Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk, NWDR) to provide information to the local population. He emigrates to the USA in the early 1950s.

Efforts at restitution

Foto. Buchcover, das ein historisches Foto eines herrschaftlichen Hauses zeigt.
Title of Walter Eberstadt's family biography.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Walter Eberstadt becomes a successful banker. In 2002 he publishes his family’s history under the title "Whence We Came, Where we Went". The book also describes his efforts to get back the artworks that had once belonged to his murdered grandparents Ernst and Gertrud Flersheim.

Foto. Wohnzimmer, an der Wand die Grafik "Gottvertrauen".
Filming in Michael Eberstadt's living room. To the left on the wall the graphic "Trust in God".

Bayerischer Rundfunk

One of these was the drawing Godsvertrowen (Faith in God) by Jan Toorop. It had been in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam since 1943. In 2001 the museum returned it to the Eberstadt family.

Today the drawing is on the living-room wall at the Manhattan home of Ernst and Gertrud Flersheim’s great grandson, Michael Eberstadt.

 

 

 

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Florence Flersheim’s escape to Amsterdam

Historische Fotografie eines fünfstöckigen Hotelgebäudes an einem Kanal.
Doelen Hotel in Amsterdam, 1926.

Sammlung Stadtarchiv Amsterdam

Ernst Flersheim’s brother Martin dies after long illness in 1935. His wife Florence flees with their son Fritz to Amsterdam, where they live for a number of months at Hotel Doelen.

Historische Fotografie. Zwei große Container aus Holz auf einem Fahrgestell.
Shipping crates like these were often used to transport or store Jewish household goods.

Stadtarchiv Dannenberg an der Elbe, Archiv-ID 18696

The discriminatory legislation introduced by the Nazi regime means that Florence Flersheim is forced to sell or leave behind a substantial proportion of her assets and valuables.

However, she manages to take a part of her household inventory and the art collection with her and stores them in two large wooden shipping crates in the free port of Amsterdam.

Liebermann's painting "Boys Bathing"

Fotografie eines Gemäldes in Sepiatönen wiedergegeben. Eine Gruppe von Jungen am Strand. Einige sind noch im Wasser, andere sind am Land und ziehen sich an. Der Himmel ist bewölkt.
A contemporary reproduction of the painting.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

The painting Badende Jungen (Boys Bathing) by Max Liebermann is in one of the crates. The Flersheims had purchased it from the artist directly

Fotografie. Stempelaufdruck.
The ERR marked looted items with this stamp. It was authorized by the Nazi regime to seize items of value in the occupied territories.

Wikimedia Commons, gemeinfrei

In summer 1944 the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Reichsleiter Rosenberg Task Force, ERR) loots the free port of Amsterdam, seizing Florence Flersheim’s stored possessions in the process. For a long time, it was thought that the Badende Jungen was among the goods seized and that this was therefore a looted artwork that had to be restituted.

Ölgemälde. Eine Gruppe von Jungen am Strand. Einige sind noch im Wasser, andere sind am Land und ziehen sich an. Der Himmel ist bewölkt. Das Meer hat Schaumkronen.
Max Liebermann: Boys bathing, 1898.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen 🔍 Über das Bild mit der Maus fahren, um zu vergrößern

However, the Liebermann painting escaped the ERR’s clutches: Florence Flersheim managed to give it to the Amsterdam branch of the Cassierer art dealership for sale on commission. In 2022 decisive evidence of this safe custody was discovered in the Cassirer archive. The Flersheims’ son Fritz had the Badende Knaben auctioned in 1954. In 1981 the purchaser donated the painting to the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen (Bavarian State Paintings Collections).