Initial check in five town and regional museums – a pilot project on provenance research in southern Lower Saxony
- June 2016 to November 2016
Initial questions and project objectives
Initial checks were carried out between June 1, 2016, and November 30, 2016, in five town and regional museums in southern Lower Saxony: Duderstadt, Einbeck, Alfeld, Hann. Münden and Clausthal-Zellerfeld.
The bodies initiating the project are the Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur, the Netzwerk Provenienzforschung in Niedersachsen, the Museumsverband Niedersachsen und Bremen e.V., Landschaftsverband Südniedersachsen e.V. as the direct contracting authority, and the respective museums or municipal bodies. Financial support in the form of federal funding is provided via the German Lost Art Foundation.
A preliminary investigation (initial check) aimed to clarify whether there was any suspicion of the unlawful acquisition of objects by the museum, particularly during the Nazi period.
Suspicious objects and those of unclear provenance, especially objects acquired between 1933 and 1945, but also afterwards, were documented. Where there were positive findings, a follow-on project is planned with the aim of clarifying the suspicious cases, if possible, or enabling appropriate further courses of action (restitution, submitting a report to the Lost Art Database, and so on.) The results will be published.
Suspicious objects were documented in four of the five museums, both in the collections and in the old holdings of the museum libraries. In Clausthal-Zellerfeld, it was possible for the museum to refute the suspicion that a piece of land had been ‘aryanized’. However, several suspicious books were documented in the Harz library belonging to the Clausthaler Museum.
Most of the suspicious objects were admitted to the museum during the Nazi period. In addition, problematic ethnographica was found in Alfeld and items of church equipment likely to have originated from the GDR were identified in Duderstadt; these require further investigation.
In the acquisition period 1933–1945, the items concerned mainly came from left-wing political or cultural associations, from Jewish families or institutions, the freemasons, Catholic institutions and from other sources classed as ‘enemies of the people or the state’. Objects have also been documented from individual persons in the contexts cited.
The project in numbers
total no. of
The figures stated above refer to the quantity of inventory numbers, not individual objects. Because one inventory number often applies to several objects, the actual number of objects is higher; these have been written in brackets for objects in the red category.
Based on the current state of the research, it is not yet possible to specify the precise number of objects for which unlawful seizure can be completely ruled out. However, non-suspicious object categories are, for example, old holdings compiled by the museums before 1933, archeological findings excavated or picked up in the town and surrounding area, and items manufactured after 1945. The search for and documentation of suspicious cases and, where possible, those with unclear provenance took precedence over the
numerical recording of these suspicious objects within the time-limited constraints of the initial check.
In this respect, it is difficult to state the exact number of objects checked in total as the type of check is not more precisely defined in the guidelines. The number of objects noted in the inventories and checked is in the thousands; the amount of objects closely inspected and checked for marks of origin was not counted.
The figures stated above are relative, e.g. it was only possible to record the unclear (yellow) cases in two museums; there were just too many in the others. In addition, the yellow figures in Duderstadt relate to the old holdings, whereas in Einbeck they include the old holdings and the holdings up to 1995. The relatively high number of cases in the orange category in Alfeld results from the decision to also categorize the many ethnographical items kept there as suspicious because they are inadequately documented and may possibly have been acquired by force during the (post-)colonial period.
- Christian Riemenschneider: Provenienzforschung in fünf südniedersächsischen Museen. : Ein Erst-Check auf unrechtmäßig entzogene Kulturgüter. Duderstadt, 2017.
- Online-Publikation der Ergebnisse des Erst-Checks auf der Homepage des Landschaftsverbandes Südniedersachsen (in Vorbereitung; erste Ergebnisse wurden bereits im Rahmen der Abschlussveranstaltung in Hann. Münden, am 28.11.2017, veröffentlicht; vgl. http://www.landschaftsverband.org/premi/2016-11-28.shtml [Link])