A stroke of luck for the clover leaves – Aschersleben Museum returns cultural assets
Aschersleben Municipal Museum is to restitute seventeen objects to the local Masonic lodge Zu den drei Kleeblättern on 13 April 2022, this year’s Provenance Research Day. The museum has been housed at the lodge premises since 1955 and contains 109 Masonic objects. The provenance of the objects was investigated as part of a research project funded by the German Lost Art Foundation.
The Aschersleben museum is home to the only Masonic temple belonging to an active lodge in Germany that is open to the public. The building on the market square was the seat of the lodge from 1798 to 1935. After the lodge was banned and liquidated by the Nazi regime, the property passed into the hands of the municipal authorities. The museum has been housed in the building since 1955. In 1992, the house was restored to the Grand Landlodge of the Freemasons of Germany as the successor organization, and in 1993 the St. John’s Lodge – known as Zu den drei Kleeblättern (‘To the three clover leaves’) – was reactivated. Since then, the lodge and the museum have shared the building. The exhibition there provides information about the history of the lodge and features some 50 Freemasonry exhibits. The museum also holds several items with a Masonic connection. Due to the ban imposed on Freemasonry in Nazi Germany in 1935 and the expropriation of the lodges, museum-owned Masonic objects are suspected of being Nazi-looted property. For this reason, Aschersleben Lodge Master Hans-Martin Kohlmann submitted an “application for the return of lodge property” to the museum in 2019.
In a six-month research project funded by the Foundation, art historian Christiane Grathwohl-Scheffel examined all items with a Masonic connection at the museum – including clothing, books and ritual objects – and also investigated the forced dissolution of the Masonic Lodge as a result of Nazi persecution. She also identified previous owners, looked into why they parted with the objects, and reconstructed how these items found their way into the municipal museum. It turns out that 48 objects came into the possession of the museum from 1980 onwards – most after 1990 – as a result of donations and purchases by descendants of Freemasons active between 1900 and 1935. The museum became the point of contact for such bequests.
The discovery of four ornamental façade stones in the shape of a three-leaf clover was particularly spectacular: they were found hidden behind the jamb wall in the attic of the museum in the course of the research process. A similar stucco was previously recovered from the attic in the 1990s, as were two canon glasses discovered by museum staff in the 1950s. It was also possible to retrace virtually the entire history of the lodge’s liquidation. The archived inventory list drawn up by the “Gestapo”, which was responsible for confiscating the Aschersleben lodge property in 1935, lists 340 items. These have not been found to date.
As a result of the provenance research, an agreement was ultimately reached with the Lodge Master on the restitution of 17 objects. In addition to the five façade ornaments and the two cannon glasses, the handover includes several books and a lodge badge. Two other owners were also identified: three books with ownership references to the two liquidated Eisleben lodges are to be restituted to the re-established lodge Zum aufblühenden Baum in Eisleben. The handwritten Katalog der Medaillen- und Bijoux-Sammlung der Großen Landesloge d. Frm. Von Deutschland. Schlichting 31.12.50 (‘Catalogue of the Medal and Bijoux Collection of the Grand Landlodge of the Freemasons of Germany. Schlichting 31.12.50’) does not date from the Nazi period and will go to the Lodge Museum in St. Michaelisdonn, which holds the collection in question.
The restitution will take place on 13 April 2022 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Lodge Temple in the presence of Lodge Master Hans-Martin Kohlmann and the Secretary of State for Culture Dr. Sebastian Putz. The handover is open to the public. Anyone interested in attending is asked to register with the museum by 12.04.2022.