Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

Conference of the German Lost Art Foundation

The confiscation of cultural assets in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR – The current state of research and perspectives

Date 2016.11.23

“Ev­ery mu­se­um and ev­ery li­brary in Ger­many should be ab­so­lute­ly sure they know pre­cise­ly how the items in their hold­ings were ac­quired,” said Prof. Uwe M. Schneede, ex­ec­u­tive board mem­ber of the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion. In his sum­ming up, he said: “This con­fer­ence has shown that it is high time sys­tem­at­ic in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan in­to the mech­a­nisms and struc­tures of state-sanc­tioned art theft in the So­vi­et Oc­cu­pa­tion Zone and the GDR. It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that this is an is­sue for Ger­many as a whole, as art­works seized in East Ger­many were sold by the ‘Kom­merzielle Ko­or­dinierung’ GDR state ap­pa­ra­tus pri­mar­i­ly for hard cur­ren­cy in the West, and they re­main there to­day.”

These were the clos­ing words of the first spe­cial­ist pub­lic con­fer­ence on this sub­ject on Novem­ber 21, 2016, which gave an overview of the cur­rent state of re­search in­to the con­fis­ca­tion of cul­tur­al as­sets in the So­vi­et Oc­cu­pa­tion Zone and the GDR and opened up new re­search per­spec­tives. The com­plex­i­ty of the re­search field be­came ap­par­ent dur­ing the con­fer­ence. In or­der to in­ves­ti­gate how in­sti­tu­tions such as the state com­pa­ny Kun­st und An­tiq­ui­täten GmbH (KuA) func­tioned, doc­u­ments from the Fed­er­al Archives first need to be an­a­lyzed and wit­ness­es from the GDR pe­ri­od ques­tioned. The role of the GDR Com­mis­sion for the Pro­tec­tion of Cul­tur­al Prop­er­ty al­so needs to be bet­ter un­der­stood. As an ini­tial project, re­search could be car­ried out in­to a case from “Ak­tion Licht” as an ex­am­ple, with the aim of re­veal­ing the mech­a­nisms at play. “Ak­tion Licht” was an op­er­a­tion car­ried out across East Ger­many in 1962 in which the GDR state ap­pa­ra­tus sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly forced the open­ing of safes that had not been ac­cessed for sev­er­al years. The Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion ex­pects to be able to start pro­vid­ing the nec­es­sary re­search fund­ing in 2017 for the sys­tem­at­ic in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the is­sues out­lined.

The Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion is the na­tion­al and in­ter­na­tion­al con­tact part­ner for all mat­ters per­tain­ing to the un­law­ful seizure of cul­tur­al as­sets in Ger­many in the 20th cen­tu­ry, in­clud­ing in the So­vi­et Oc­cu­pa­tion Zone and the GDR. The Foun­da­tion’s work to date has fo­cused on Nazi-con­fis­cat­ed prop­er­ty, and this will re­main its pri­ma­ry fo­cus in the fu­ture. A fun­da­men­tal ex­plo­ration of the top­ic area of the con­fer­ence opens up an ad­di­tion­al field of ac­tiv­i­ty if the cor­re­spond­ing grants to fund projects are forth­com­ing on the po­lit­i­cal side.