The history of the Städtische Museum Zittau 1930/1933–1945/1950. New acquisitions—origin and circumstances
- Dr. Marius Winzeler
Telephone: +49 (0) 3583 554 790
- August 2008 to February 2009
The Städtische Museen Zittau form the most important museum institution in South Lusatia in the historic catchment area of the administrative districts of Zittau and Löbau, Saxony. Its history is closely linked to the council library, whose holdings have also contained museum exhibits since the mid-16th century. A separate exhibition room was built for these in 1709 (cabinet of curiosities). In the 1930s, the former city museum was given new impetus when its space was expanded and the profile of its collections and exhibitions was enhanced under Dr. Herbert Hoffmann, the director in office from 1937 to 1946. Following recent donations of documents from his estate, it has now been possible to investigate this chapter of local museum history which has remained unexamined to date.
A particular need became apparent as a result of increasing inquiries from private parties concerning the whereabouts of art objects that had been kept in the museum at least temporarily during the Second World War. Questions on the provenance and the ownership status of current museum items had also been raised. Recent research on Zittau’s Jewish history had also prompted questions about the involvement of the museum and politicians in the persecution and expropriation of Jewish citizens of Zittau. These questions need to be answered urgently.
The primary aim of the project was to examine the provenance of objects received and new acquisitions made by Zittau city museum in the period 1933 to 1945. This time period was slightly expanded to include the years between 1931 and 1950 so that the museum’s acquisition policy during the Nazi era and the sales and transfers immediately after 1945 could be better understood. In the project, particular attention was given to museum objects that had been acquired directly or indirectly from previous owners who were Jewish or members of another persecuted group.
Firstly, the city museum’s receipt lists for the stated period were checked with regard to provenance information. The previous owners were subsequently identified where possible; further investigations into the life stories of the previous owners then followed in order to clarify their fate as far as possible. At the same time, the museum’s files in the Zittau city archive for the period 1933–1945 were inspected and the museum’s institutional and staffing situation was examined. Since only some of the questions raised could be answered based on the documents in Zittau, the research activities were continued in archives in Bautzen (Archivverbund), Dresden (Sächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv), Berlin (Staatliche Museen archives/Federal Archives), Munich and Augsburg (Karl Haberstock estate). As a result of the investigations, it was possible to obtain a considerable amount of clarity on the provenance of the Zittau collections during the period concerned. Even though many questions continue to remain unanswered, at least these can now be addressed as an area requiring further research. In particular, sporadic acquisitions made immediately after 1945/46 also need to be investigated further. The available files have not revealed any information about the background to these so far. A small group of three paintings acquired from art dealer Karl Haberstock in 1940/41 proved to be of particular interest as a key area of the research: works by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, also known as Dietricy, Jakob Creszenz Seydelmann and Johann Eleazar Zeissig, also called Schenau.
The project was carried out by the former freelance historian Cornelius Stempel M.A. Preparations are underway to publish the findings in the information reports issued by the Zittauer Geschichts- und Museumsverein (Zittau history and museum association).