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.