The project

The disenfranchisement and persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany also entailed their dispossession. Jews were subject to compulsory taxes and their property was confiscated. In many cases, financial hardship compelled persecuted Jews to sell their possessions, and those who were able to flee had to leave many things behind.

A proportion of the looted artworks and books ended up in public collections. Museums purchased them at auction, from galleries, or from persecuted individuals directly. In some cases, the state authorities assigned looted objects to museums and libraries. The ways in which looted art made its way into public collections are as varied as the stories of what happened to the people from whom it was stolen.

Even today, cultural property confiscated from Jewish citizens during the National Socialist era can be found in museums, libraries, or archives. The fact that the objects concerned were obtained by unlawful means was often not known or not acknowledged for decades. Complex research is sometimes required to confirm an object’s provenance as Nazi-looted art, for example, if it was purchased on the art market many years after being confiscated or has changed hands several times since the end of the war.

Bei der internationalen Konferenz in Washington im Jahr 1998 verpflichteten sich 43 Staaten, unrechtmäßig erworbene Gegenstände aus jüdischem Eigentum in ihren öffentlichen Einrichtungen zu identifizieren, die Erb:innen der beraubten Menschen ausfindig zu machen und mit ihnen gerechte und faire Lösungen zu finden. Dies war die Grundlage dafür, die Provenienzforschung, also die Erforschung der Herkunft von Objekten, als eigene Fachrichtung an Museen und anderen Einrichtungen zu etablieren.

Provenance research thereby uncovers what happened not only to the pieces of art, but also to the people who once owned them. Their life stories are told in the multimedia project “Art, Looting, and Restitution”. The intention is to rescue these people’s names from oblivion and preserve them in public memory, and to restore their dignity.

This project is a collaboration between the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen (Bavarian State Painting Collections). It is funded by the Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien (Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media). The broadcasters Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) and Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb) are partners in the project.

Art, Looting and Restitution - Forgotten Life Stories - Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (preussischer-kulturbesitz.de)

Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK)

The Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, SPK) is an internationally renowned cultural and research foundation. It brings together five institutions: the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin), the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library), the Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Secret State Archives), the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (Iberico-American Institute), and the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung (State Institute for Music Research). Its collections have a universal character. The SPK is maintained and funded jointly by the German government and the sixteen German federal states. The seat of the foundation is Berlin.

For many years, the SPK has been investigating the provenance, that is, the origins, of the objects in its collections. This serves to resolve issues related to the confiscation of items due to Nazi persecution or to the colonial heritage of cultural property, but also addresses additional questions, for example concerning the history of a collection.

Provenance research for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin takes place at the Zentralarchiv (Central Archive). A team of seven provenance researchers examine the origins of a large number of objects from the museums of art, archaeology, and ethnology. The search for Nazi-looted artworks is an important focus of their work.

Its expertise concerning the history of the museums and art trade, as well as its archive holdings, also make the Zentralarchiv an important resource for other German and international museums which are investigating the origins of their objects.

At the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Abteilung Historische Drucke (Department of Early Printed Books) has a dedicated section for provenance research. In the “Reichstauschstelle” (Reich Exchange Office) project, the Staatsbibliothek also investigated its own acquisition and distribution strategies from 1933 through 1945.

In cases where cultural property was confiscated from its owners as a result of Nazi persecution, the SPK works with the heirs to achieve just and fair resolutions in accordance with the Washington Principles (-> Glossary). Since 1999 it has processed more than 50 restitution claims and taken proactive steps to identify and restitute a large number of Nazi-looted items in its own collections. As a result, more than 350 artworks and around 2,000 books have been returned to their rightful owners (figures from September 2023). On the basis of the various solutions reached, it has been possible to retain a number of these works in the collections, in some cases in accordance with agreements reached with the rightful owners, and in other cases through purchasing an object for a collection after its restitution.

Provenance research and ownership issues - Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (preussischer-kulturbesitz.de)

Provenance Research | National Museums in Berlin (smb.museum)

Provenance research (staatsbibliothek-berlin.de)

Bavarian
State Painting-
collections

The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen (Bavarian State Painting Collections) oversee a substantial proportion of the paintings and art holdings of the Free State of Bavaria as well as the associated museums in Munich: the Alte Pinakothek, the Neue Pinakothek, the Sammlung Moderne Kunst (Modern Art Collection) in the Pinakothek der Moderne, the Sammlung Schack (Schack Collection), the Museum Brandhorst, and also twelve state galleries across Bavaria.

The Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen have been engaged in provenance research since 1999. In 2008 a department was founded for this purpose, which now has two full-time members of staff and one part-time employee.

On the basis of the principles agreed at the Washington Conference (-> Glossary), the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen inspect their holdings in the Pinakotheken and affiliated galleries to ascertain whether they contain artworks that were seized unlawfully from Jews during the National Socialist period and can be restituted. The objective is to compile a seamless record of the provenance of each work, insofar as this is possible, so that issues of ownership can be clarified more easily.

As well as conducting systematic research into 7,000 works (paintings and sculptures) in the holdings, the provenance research department additionally processes incoming restitution claims and pursues its own investigations into objects detected as Nazi-looted art. It reports works suspected to have been seized as a result of persecution to the online database www.lostart.de and, wherever possible, approaches eligible claimants. In addition, it handles and carries out provenance-related procedures such as the new acquisition of works produced before 1945, loans, database entry, and cataloguing. Since 1998 a total of 22 works have been restituted to their rightful owners (figure from September 2023).

Provenance research (pinakothek.de)

Bavarian Broadcasting (BR)

In Germany more than eight million people tune into Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) every day. Since 1949 this broadcaster has stood for responsible journalism and well-made entertainment. Its main strengths are its content in the fields of information, culture, and education and its distinct presence throughout Bavaria.

BR comprises two television channels, five radio stations, a number of digital radio programs, a content network for young people, two outstanding orchestras, and a renowned choir. In addition, it offers a wide variety of online multimedia content including the BR Channel in the Mediathek (streaming platform) of the ARD public broadcasting network, social media content, podcasts, and apps (including the BR24 app, which enables people to put together their own personal news services, and the BR Radio app featuring all BR radio stations).

Bayerischer Rundfunk is one of the main cultural institutions in Bavaria and has a large number of partnerships with cultural establishments and events. Its services make an important contribution to cultural education, public information, and commemorative culture. High-quality and engaging radio and film projects are created in close cooperation with museums and other academic institutions.

Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb)

Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb) is the public broadcaster for the German states of Berlin and Brandenburg. It provides one regional television channel and the radio stations Antenne Brandenburg, rbb 88.8, Fritz, radioeins, rbb24 Inforadio, rbbKultur, and Cosmo. In addition, it offers a variety of multimedia digital content, ranging from podcasts and apps (e.g. the rbb|24-App) to social media on various platforms. Rbb’s wide-ranging content is mostly produced in its main studios in Berlin and Potsdam-Babelsberg. Regional studios in Cottbus and Frankfurt an der Oder and regional bureaus in Perleberg and Prenzlau provide the latest news and background reports from the local area.

rbb makes a significant contribution to Das Erste, one of two nationwide channels in Germany, with fictional content made in Berlin and Brandenburg, investigative research, and regional reporting. Its high-quality documentaries are included in the Mediathek (streaming platform) of the ARD public broadcasting network. Rbb additionally collaborates with the channels 3Sat, ARTE, KiKA and PHOENIX as well as ARD Digital. It also has a key role in covering events in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in relation to neighboring Poland.

rbb considers itself a contributor to and active patron of the arts in Berlin and Brandenburg. Its commitment in this area is evident, for example, in the LEUCHTSTOFF initiative created by rbb and the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, a funding body for the media and film industry, to support regional filmmakers and film projects.

Contact

The Mediathek der Erinnerung of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Bavarian State Painting Collections is intended to grow in the long term and be open to other museums, cultural and academic institutions in Germany that are also conducting provenance research into Nazi-looted art.

You can contact us here:

Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz – Projektleitung

Coordination and editing:
Dr Anke Lünsmann - a.luensmann@hv.spk-berlin.de

Press:
Birgit Jöbstl - b.joebstl@hv.spk-berlin.de

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Coordination and editing:
Dr Julia Devlin - Julia.Devlin@pinakothek.de

Press:
Tine Nehler - Tine.Nehler@pinakothek.de