Queries from a well-read database user

by Caroline Flick

Die erste und deutsch-sprachige Veröffentlichung des Artikels finden Sie hier: / The first and German-language publication of the article can be found here:
https://retour.hypotheses.org/3050


The publication of a list of artworks on 24 January 2024 by the OFP Project on lootedart.com gives rise to a number of observations.[1]

The British organisation “Commission for Looted Art” announced the release of this list in its database as a result of the OFP project with “details of 230 seized artworks”. The OFP project scanned and analyzed files relating to circa 42,000 individuals whose property was seized by the inland revenue office (Oberfinanzpräsident / OFP). Since 2019, the project received funding of over 4.4m Euros from federal and regional ministries.[2] In this instance, the monetization of stolen objects results in a listing of 175 items, for which detailed information, 34 illustrations and six current locations are announced: “compiled detailed files” would be made available to the (unnamed) families of victims.

Inventory and anonymisation

The supposed anonymisation of victims of looting “from 13 different German Jewish families” can be negated even through glancing at other available publications by the OFP project. Twelve of the thirteen individuals can thus be identified, which also allows linking the missing archival references for the files.[3]

Names in order of appearance File reference BLHA OFP ID of the list
Paul Jakob Eisner[4] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 8094 11389-11404, 11419-11479
Bruno Cassirer[5] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 6227 11408-11418
Ernst Flersheim[6] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 9434 11478-11480
Jakob Goldschmidt[7] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 12990 11491-1153
Helene Haase[8] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 13399 11515-11538
Edgar Moor[9] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 27201 11541
Hugo Zwillenberg[10] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 41516 11543-11548
Maximilian Kempner[11] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 19175 11550-11562
Elisabeth Cohn[12] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 5977 11564-11670
Martin Schönemann[13] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 34454 11673-11700
Dr. Fritz Strassmann Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 37452 11702-11706
Georg Tietz[14] Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 38052 11710-11747

The author of the present paper is aware of some cases through her research on the Berlin auction house Hans W. Lange, which allows her to identify two more concerned parties.[15] A total of 41 objects – a quarter of the listed pieces – were offered for sale by Lange; the listing does provide links to digital copies of auction catalogues. Several of these events had already been published before the OFP project announced the release of the data.[16]

Over a third of the listed objects published, according to lootedart.com, “in order to make this information widely available” is already publicised as search requests in the central German database Lostart.de at the German Lost Art Foundation, including the names of the previous owners.[17] A total of 65 out of 175 listed objects have been sought there since 2005, 2008 or 2010 and more recently; victims and objects have therefore long been known. No references or links are given for this connection.

There are already scholarly publications on several of the victims of theft, their history and the process of seizure. The OFP project’s “news” section does at least list a lecture by Miriam Olivia Merz.[18] Publications by third parties are never referenced, neither in the OFP listing nor in the “news”, nor are they entered by the team in the “information system for auction consignments” accompanying digital sale catalogues. Neither (own cross-) references, nor links and scholarly commentary are mentioned; the result is yet another data silo.

Such research results would be worth mentioning, since the implicit presumption that hardly anybody ever worked with these files and on these individuals does not hold up.[19]

Lapses in archival procedure

The OFP Project is tasked with analysing a specific body of files. In its listing however, it separates the documentation of where an object was found from its source, that is the archival identifier; a lapse in archival procedure.

None of the items listed on lootedart.com references shelf marks from the archive that is the source of the investigation. As a consequence, readers will not be able to work directly with a file, which is generally the objective of making an archive accessible. Instead, any communication on the seizures is channelled through the contact point of the OFP project.

Since the source of the listings is not adequately accounted for, immediate scholarly use is excluded. This also applies to the data provided in several fields of each listed item.

It would be in line with standard academic practice to list various titles and descriptions for an object. Stock lists, expert reports and auction cataloguing vary frequently in case files as well as in the subsequent process of monetization.[20] When a “filter” is applied to the available information on process and artwork,[21] it would be standard scholarly procedure to make this clear.

In addition, when buyers are listed in the archival files relating to an object, these are not necessarily named in full.[22] Neither are they marked consistently: if a quote is verbatim, does an added “?” indicate illegibility, and does “wohl” (most likely) refer to uncertainty about the informative value of the source or variations in legibility? Furthermore, information from other sources is included, for example from digital auction catalogues, without indicating a switch in reference.[23]

Selection

On lootedart.com, the objects are listed with id numbers as part of their URL. These numbers are not sequential. The lowest OFP id is 11389, the highest is 11747, which might suggest 359 listed items. Are we looking at an extract, and if so, how was it created?

Some descendants of victims are searching many more objects via lostart.de than are listed here, even though the process of seizure was identical: for Jakob Goldschmidt, 111 objects from the same auction are currently listed as searches, while lootedart.com has merely twelve. This is a systemic reduction of the victims’ losses.[24] If this is again an extract, what were the criteria which were applied?

Objects from four multi-owner auction sales in the storage rooms of the Oberfinanzpräsident are listed[25] – in addition to sales at art auctions and at some other authorities. Yet the OFP organized many more auctions in its own storage facilities to sell goods from those who fled, lost their citizenship or were ultimately deported. Which of these auctions were selected and why?

For example, the sale on 20 April 1943 offered more artworks than are listed, such as paintings by Carl Scherres and Henri Harpignies, who were seized from Edgar Moor as the heir of the brothers Arthur and Eugen Goldschmidt; these are missing from the OFP project listing.[26] Which objects were chosen and why?

Where is the work on paper by Menzel belonging to Kurt Steindorff, who emigrated?[27] Where are the group sales by Berlin’s auctioneers offering home furnishings and house contents?[28]

Locations

The announcement of the data publication refers to knowledge about “the current location of six of the seized artworks“; however, there are no references or links in the object entries.

Once again, a glance at the OFP project’s own “news” page permits to identify four relevant objects from the list. Two works had been the subject of previous newspaper articles, another one was published as a found object in 2018 (Bruno Cassirer).[29] Two more works can be found in museums outside Germany. One of these is listed by the OFP without location (Ernst Flersheim); the other was not even included in the listing (Paul Jakob Eisner).[30] Who is listed, who is not, and why?

Furthermore, two paintings are listed which were published in 2011 (Georg Tietz) and 2017 (Helene Haase),[31] whose restitution was agreed in principle since, but to date lacks an official announcement. There is no reference to this.

Consequently, the question arises what such a selective publication by the OFP project in a database (outside the EU), with a structure not really fit for purpose, offering some results from an investigation funded with substantial means by German ministries, is meant to achieve.

Outlook

Direct online access to the files of the Oberfinanzpräsident Berlin-Brandenburg was enabled on 14 February 2024. This is a milestone. Descendants worldwide can now access documents about their relatives. The same access also opens the holdings for wider historical research in future.

No doubt provenance research will also benefit from direct access, as it allows immediate checking of possible connections. But as long as there is no full text search capability of all digitally publicized files, anybody investigating an object without any conceivable link to a person’s name will not be able to unlock the archive’s potential.

Any list of results from the OFP project must therefore provide an indexing function, record object data and list sources, for any research into the provenance of vaguely defined pieces to begin.

While spotlights on historical biographies are a vital element of memory culture, they must refer to documented contexts, not selected hints. The expenditure of time for research into the context of selected objects and individuals endangers consistent unlocking of material and the archival guiding principle of neutrality.

Turning a ‘blind eye’ to cultural losses from other categories – from autographs to books to applied arts and furniture, as well as automobiles and technical machinery – in practice creates a barrier to entry for research in these holdings and disregards countless further victims. As a much-quoted question by Brecht puts it: “What about those who did not write history [here]… Are these less affected?”

Without such an index, a widely effective use of the access created with such effort will not materialize.[32] A selection and convoluted presentation of ‘working results’ on the OFP listing does not serve this purpose.

State Minister of Culture Claudia Roth on the launch of the database: “German museums and international provenance researchers will now have access to over 40,000 more pieces of historical documentation to identify seized cultural property and … enable it’s restitution.”[xxxiii]

And just how are we going to do that? Going through 40,000 files?


Dr. Caroline Flick, historian, works independently on the history of the Berlin auction house Hans W. Lange and the art market during the National Socialist era.

[1] See lootedart.com. The Central Registry of Information on Looted Cultural Property 1933-1945, https://www.lootedart.com/home: “24 January 2024: Announcement of a collaboration between the OFP Project Berlin-Brandenburg and lootedart.com”; Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv (BLHA), Potsdam, Das OFP-Projekt, https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/projekte/ofp-projekt/; as well as: Zentralregister LootedArt.com. Recherchen der Provenienzforschung veröffentlicht, n.d. (11 December 2023), https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/2023/12/11/zentralregister-lootedart-com/

(last access: 150224). – I am grateful to my colleagues from the Provenance Research Association for suggestions, debates and support.

[2] Dominic Strieder, Provenienzforschung zu NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenem Kulturgut im Brandenburgischen Landeshauptarchiv, H-Soz-Kult, 16 May 2022, www.hsozkult.de/project/id/fp-117784; Press announcements, see for example in Jüdische Allgemeine, Landesarchiv stellt NS-Akten online, 13 February 2024 18:22 (epd), https://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/allgemein/landesarchiv-stellt-ns-akten-online/; see also Dokumente der Entrechtung: Landeshauptarchiv veröffentlicht Akten der NS-Finanzverwaltung zu mehr als 40.000 Einzelschicksalen, 13 February 2024, https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/2024/02/13/dokumente-der-entrechtung/ (150224) with further links.

[3] See the “News” of the OFP Project on the web page of BLHA, https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/projekte/ofp-projekt/news/; as well as contributions to “Informationssystem zu Auktions-Einlieferungen” (ISAE), German Sales, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, https://www.arthistoricum.net/themen/portale/german-sales/einlieferer/ (120224).

[4] Ein Gemälde-Fund in Israel, n.d. (28 March 2023), https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/2023/03/28/gemalde-fund-in-israel/; Johanna Stauber, Finanzamt Moabit-West, Berlin (Einlieferung „Finanzamt Moabit“). Auktion Hans W. Lange 19.5.1941, ISAE 28 November 2023, https://doi.org/10.11588/anno.diglit.OqM1QXKtQMiWdYfwxpFw5Q; Johanna Stauber, Finanzamt Moabit-West, Berlin (Einlieferung „F. Berlin“). Auktion Hans W. Lange 19.-21.5.1941, ISAE 6 December 2023, https://doi.org/10.11588/anno.diglit.WHC9s0xeSKmtfZ_DhPDNrw (090224).

[5] Slevogt-Funde in der Nationalgalerie Berlin, n.d.,

https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/projekte/ofp-projekt/news/slevogt-funde/; cf. Benjamin Lawisse, Der Raubkunst auf der Spur. Potsdamer Forscher veröffentlichen 42.000 Akten [m.h. Aktensignaturen] aus der Nazi-Zeit, Tagespiegel/Potsdamer Neue Nachrichten 6 February 2023, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/potsdam/brandenburg/der-raubkunst-auf-der-spur-potsdamer-forscher-veroffentlichen-42000-akten-aus-der-nazi-zeit-9300005.html; Hubertus Butin, Porträt Slevogts als Raubkunst: Abgerechnet wird zum Schluss, FAZ 09 November 2023,

https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/schwerer-ns-raubkunstverdacht-in-der-alte-nationalgalerie-bei-bild-von-max-slevogt-19302516.html  (140224).

[6] Provenienzforschung: Die „Seepredigt“ aus dem geraubten Besitz von Ernst und Gertrud Flersheim, n.d. (24 February 2024), https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/2023/01/24/die-seepredigt-flersheim/ (090224).

[7] Johanna Stauber, Finanzamt Moabit-West, Berlin (Einlieferung „F. Berlin“). Auktion Hans W. Lange, 25.9.1941, ISAE 28 November 2023, https://doi.org/10.11588/anno.diglit.V9rZ6ja-Q2CG7GiOz8Qj6Q (120224).

[8] Stella Baßenhoff/Johanna Heil, 27.Januar [2022]: Tag des Gedenkens an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus. Wer waren Julius Schoeps und Helene Haase?, (26 January 2022), https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/2022/01/26/tag-des-gedenkens-an-die-opfer-des-nationalsozialismus/; Johanna Stauber, Oberfinanzpräsident Berlin-Brandenburg, Berlin (Einlieferung „119. Berlin“). Auktion Hans W. Lange, 16.-17.4.1943, ISAE 6 December 2023, https://doi.org/10.11588/anno.diglit.BmsBW-MYRIGD7cEA8Q1L6Q (090224).

[9] Fallbeispiel: Die Kunstsammlung Arthur und Eugen Goldschmidt, n.d.,

https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/projekte/ofp-projekt/news/die-kunstsammlung-arthur-und-eugen-goldschmidt/; cf. Karlotta Ehrenberg, Spurensuche nach mehr als 70 Jahren. taz 16 April 2022, https://taz.de/Provenienzforschung-zu-NS-Raubkunst/!5845717/ (110224).

[10] Stella Baßenhoff/Johanna Heil, Martin Schönemann und Dr. Hugo Zwillenberg – Kunstbesitz in Emigrantenakten im Bestand der Vermögensverwertungsstelle. In: Retour. Freier Blog für Provenienzforschende, 13 April 2022, https://retour.hypotheses.org/1976 (110224).

[11] Johanna Stauber, Finanzamt Moabit-West, Berlin (Einlieferung „F.A.M.-W., Berlin”). Zweite Ergänzung, Auktion Hans W. Lange 12.-13.5.1942, ISAE 22 December 2023, https://doi.org/10.11588/anno.diglit.egTd18ZjSNuOlhD23joRzg  (120224).

[12] Wer war Elisabeth Cohn? Wege einer Recherche, n.d., https://blha.brandenburg.de/index.php/projekte/ofp-projekt/news/elisabeth-cohn/ (090224).

[13] Baßenhoff/Heil, Schönemann und Zwillenberg …; Johanna Stauber, Finanzamt Innere Stadt Ost, Wien i.A. des Finanzamt Moabit-West, Berlin (Einlieferung). Auktion Dorotheum 4.-5.2.1941, ISAE 3 January 2024, https://anno.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/anno/VP54_zuxQvSX0fJ40hTBMg  (010224) and more often.

[14] Stauber, Oberfinanzpräsident Berlin-Brandenburg, Berlin (Einlieferung „119. Berlin“) …

[15] BLHA Rep. 36 A II, Nr. 37452 Dr. Fritz Strassmann and Nr. 37457 [Dr.] Reinhold Strassmann; Caroline Flick, Geschick im System. Der Kunsthändler Hans W. Lange (November 2011), p. 18, http://carolineflick.de/publikationen/Geschick-im-System.pdf (150224); see also W. Paul Strassmann, Die Strassmanns. Schicksale einer deutsch-jüdischen Familie über zwei Jahrhunderte, Frankfurt a.M. 2006

[16] Caroline Flick, Hans W. Lange. Antiquitäten als Lebensinhalt, in: Gute Geschäfte. Kunsthandel in Berlin 1933-1945, hrsg. Vom Aktiven Museum Faschismus und Widerstand in Berlin, Berlin 2011, p. 59-66; –, Geschick im System …; –, Verwertung der Umzugsgüter Georg und Martin Tietz. August 2018, http://carolineflick.de/publikationen/Verwertung-Umzugsgueter-Tietz.pdf; –, Helene Haases „Hagemeister“. September 2018, http://carolineflick.de/publikationen/Helene-Haases-Hagemeister.pdf; –, Finanzamt Moabit-West, Berlin (Einlieferung „F.A.M.-W., Berlin“). Ergänzung, Auktion Hans W. Lange 12.-13.5.1942, ISAE 25 May 2023, https://anno.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/anno/M69FyD1SSg-RK-ZLcjC6WQ (120224).

[17] Lost Art-Datenbank (LA), Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, Magdeburg, https://www.lostart.de/de/suche?filter[type][0]=Objektdaten (150224), sub names or Lost Art ID.

[18] Provenienzforschung: Die „Seepredigt“ …

[19] Irena Strelow, Digitalisierung, Verlinkung und Online-Stellung historischer Dokumente als zwingende Voraussetzungen für die Aufklärung des nationalsozialistischen Kulturgutraubes. Das sogenannte OFP-Projekt, in: Archivar 75 (2022), Heft 1, Hrsg. vom Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung, p. 44-46, here p. 45, https://www.archive.nrw.de/sites/default/files/media/files/Archivar_2022-1_Internet-NEU-28032022_Mod.pdf (060224). – Note the changeover when launching the database: Dokumente der Entrechtung …: „… ein einzigartiger Bestand für die Region, der schon seit Jahren international genutzt wird“.

[20] See for example on Martin Schönemann the descriptions on a publicized list by a Viennese shipper in Baßenhoff/Heil, Schönemann and Zwillenberg …; those in digitized Viennese auction catalogues according to Johanna Stauber, Finanzamt Innere Stadt Ost, Wien i.A. des Finanzamt Moabit-West, Berlin (Einlieferung) … and more often; compare with entries in LostArt.de sub “Schönemann, Martin und Else”.

[21] Provenienzforschung: Die „Seepredigt“ …: „Die Erwähnung des Gemäldes in der Akte ist der Ausgangspunkt für weitere Recherchen. Die Provenienzforscherinnen filtern hierfür zunächst alle Informationen zum Prozess der Verwertung aus dieser Quelle.“

[22] For example, OFP ID 11617 refers to a buyer as “acquired by Roth, Berlin”, while the file on the multi-seller auction on 25 January 1943, no.1, states “Fritz Roth, Reichenbergerstr. 154” and permitted identification; BLHA Rep. 36 A II, no. 5977, Bl. 47 vs, on Elisabeth Cohn.

[23] The buyer data on objects in the auction held at Hans W. Lange on 16 April 1943 were taken from the annotated copy of the catalogue in the Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg, https://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/lange1943_04_16a (130224); see for example lot 23 on OFP ID 11717 or lot 162 on OFP ID 11515 and more often. The link to the lots also refers to this digital catalogue copy which was annotated by Walter Müller-Wulckow.

[24] See current search requests on Lostart.de on the pieces listed: Flersheim, total of 56 since 2005 (here 2); Jakob Goldschmidt 111 since 2008 (here 12); Haase 1 since 2009 (LA ID 410156 and 411054 deleted); Schönemann 68 since 2010 (here 14); Eisner 52 since 2024 (here 35).

[25] The four multi-seller auctions (lot total, original owner) are: SV [Sammelversteigerung] 2 April 1941 (32, Eisner), SV 31 March 1942 (2, Strassmann), SV 25 January 1943 (55, Cohn), SV 20 April 1943 (7, Kempner).

[26] BLHA Rep. 36 A II, no. 27201, Bl. 107 f., no. 59 “Carl Scherres, Angler am Fluss – Holz”, at RM 250 sold for 620; no. 62 “Henri Harpignies, monogrammiert: 2 Frauen i. Landschaft m. Fluss Lwd.“, at RM 900 sold for 1,050 to the art dealer Lukas Akliros.

[27] Johanna Stauber, Finanzamt Moabit-West, Berlin (Falsch unter Einlieferung „Geh. Rat Elschner, Eisenach“). Auktion Hans W. Lange, 4.7.1941, ISAE 6 December 2023, https://doi.org/10.11588/anno.diglit.LYgkdOCOSE-rOM1MDqxwMA (150224).

[28] Names such as Walter Achenbach, Leo Spik or Gerhard Harms are missing entirely; for a typical event to date there is only Stella Baßenhoff, Oberfinanzpräsident Berlin-Brandenburg, Berlin (Einlieferung „O.B.B.“). Auktion Versteigerungshaus Union 27.-28.5.1943, ISAE 11 September 2023, https://doi.org/10.11588/anno.diglit.DCrFjEdTRLSGqfACzA2BIA (160224), excavations from antiquity by Ferdinand Mainzer resp. his widow.

[29] LA ID 576043, found report by Museum im Kulturspeicher Würzburg.

[30] Provenienzforschung: Die „Seepredigt“ …: Nationalgalerie Prag; cf. search request LA ID 309726. –  Ein Gemälde-Fund in Israel …: Israel Museum Jerusalem; cf. found report LA ID 572593.

[31] OFP ID 11747, Berliner Vedute: Fischer (Bauführer von Schinkel), „Der Schinkelplatz mit Bauakademie während des Baus“. In: Gute Geschäfte…, p. 173 f.; see found report LA ID 221020; Kunstverwaltung des Bundes, Provenienzdatenbank Bund (KVB), https://kunstverwaltung.bund.de/SiteGlobals/Forms/Suche/Provenienzrecherche/Provenienzrecherche_Formular.html?nn=850008, sub mue 9894 as of 2021. – OFP ID 11515, Hagemeister, Winden: Suchmeldung LA ID 410156, 19 February 2009 (250118), deleted (before 21 September 2023); see Museum Digital Brandenburg, Stadtmuseum Brandenburg an der Havel, https://brandenburg.museum-digital.de/object/4 (140224), below description.

[32] Such an index could be a central element for an overreaching database offering archival identifiers on objects above and beyond a regional focus – known by scholars in the field as the by-catch – with a resulting freely accessible collection of archival references for descendant families as well as researchers, without requiring authorisation by claimants or current holders – briefly, a database allowing to build an infrastructure to make provenance research more efficient, something persistently demanded by scholars for years.

[33] Dokumente der Entrechtung … (13 February 2024).



Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
retour (2024, 26. Februar). Queries from a well-read database user. RETOUR. Abgerufen am 21. April 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/vwnj

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