Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

The German Lost Art Foundation launches pilot projects to investigate the cultural assets confiscated in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR

Date 2017.08.31

On September 1, 2017, the German Lost Art Foundation will be launching for the first time two projects to conduct a systematic investigation into the expropriation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ) and the GDR. The Foundation will cooperate with two key partners: the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism (HAIT) at the Dresden University of Technology and the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic (BStU). The work of the German Lost Art Foundation in this area follows a resolution by the executive board. The Foundation will use the findings from the pilot projects to develop a medium- and long-term funding concept for research into cultural assets confiscated or lost as a result of the persecution and arbitrary action in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR.

In cooperation with the HAIT, the plan is to carry out research on “Aktion Licht” (Operation Light). Aktion Licht was a clandestine operation carried out in January 1962 in which the GDR Ministry for State Security (MfS) opened and emptied locked safes, safety deposit boxes, vaults and cellars on non-private property (e.g. banks) that had not been opened since 1945. The contents (e.g. jewelry, coins, securities, stamps, art works of all kinds, notes, manuscripts, documents) were disposed of in a variety of different ways. Information about the reason, mechanisms and stakeholders, but above all about the nature, extent and fate of the cultural objects and records found in this way, and the opportunity to determine the provenance of confiscated cultural property, will be made available to the research community for the first time at the end of the project. The joint project with the HAIT is initially limited to two years.

In another project with the BStU, a special inventory of selected MfS documents on the expropriations of art and cultural property in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR will be tailored to the needs of provenance research. The results will be made available as a research tool in a print and electronic “finding aid”. It will provide quick access to files and records revealing how the MfS dealt with cultural goods (seizure, storage and transfer). A distinctive feature of this cooperation is the use of existing skills: employees of the Stasi archive will perform the archival indexing and the content specifications will be developed by Foundation employees. The project will initially run for six months.