Investigation of the Provenance of all Objects in the Lübben Museum Collection for Which There is Cause for Suspicion that Transfer of Ownership Is Linked to Nazi Persecution between 1933 and 1945
- Christina Orphal
Telephone: +49 (0) 3546 187 478
- February 2016 to January 2017
Initial questions and project objectives
From October to December 2014, the Museumsverband Brandenburg carried out a short-term provenance research project (“initial check” project) in town and regional museums in the state of Brandenburg. It was funded by the Bureau for Provenance Research. As part of this project, the first-ever investigation was carried out into the Lübben museum collection for objects suspected of having had questionable ownership between 1933 and 1945. In particular, the visual inspection of several of the objects prompted questions that had not arisen when looking at the catalogs and inventories alone, e.g. on the noticeable signatures of previous owners such as Moreau Cohn, the Wendish church, etc. The initial check assessment had been provided to the German Lost Art Foundation in 2015 and formed the basis for the longer-term provenance research project.
The Lübbener Stadt- und Regionalmuseum (Lübben town and regional museum) was established in 1906 as the Städtische Altertümer-Sammlung (Antiquities Collection). It was re-established for the third time between 1997 and 2001 following its destruction and the end of the war in 1945 and its closure again in 1968. Around 15,000 objects in total have been retrieved or newly acquired since 1997.
The present-day collection is divided into zoology, botany, geology/mineralogy, prehistory and early history, art history/applied arts (the most extensive stock), paintings/pictures, maps, photographs, postcards and a library collection (second-largest stock). The permanent exhibition covers archeology, urban models from various phases of the town’s history, Lübben as an administrative center, trades and crafts, local raw materials, Paul Gerhardt, the Spreewald in winter and the Wendish people.
The National Socialist history of the museum collection, which was maintained in close cooperation with the Brandenburg museum keepers Oskar Karpa and Georg Mirow up to 1944, was not researched. One of the museum’s receipt documents originating from this period—from 1933 to the end of 1935—does not give any precise information about the origin of the objects, which is why the provenance of all the objects mentioned in it had to be classified as unclear to begin with: for the historic stock of 20 objects that still exist today, the year of acquisition was clarified as far as possible and checks were carried out as to whether, in all probability, there was any possibility that the object could be Nazi-confiscated property.
There were suspicions relating to objects that were obviously of Jewish provenance (including a jug with the inscription “Lübben synagogue”). However, for the existing Sorbian/Wendish objects (mostly books and writings, sometimes rare books) and other items which, in view of their previous owners, may very well have been seized through persecution, there was still a lack of clarity regarding their fate during the Nazi period.
The total number of objects on which we sought to carry out in-depth provenance research originally amounted to 51 (eight Jewish objects, six Wendish books and objects with Sorbian or Wendish former owners, an item probably belonging to the Freemasons, 16 paintings recovered from the floor of the town council in 1945/46 and 20 objects from the collection’s historic stock pre-1945). Added to this were 16 other objects for which suspicions emerged during the research (e.g. through thorough examinations of objects or the inspection of files found in several archives).
The project in numbers
All the existing written object documentation relating to a total of 6,577 objects was examined for any kind of indication of Nazi-confiscated property. This included in Stock I Zoology 38 entries; in Stock II Botany 2 entries; in Stock III Geology and mineralogy 72 entries; for Stock IV Prehistory and early history 142 entries; for Stock V Cultural history up to 1945 2,198 entries altogether; for Stock VII Paintings, pictures, maps 931 entries; for Stock B Library 3,194 entries.
Stock VI Cultural history after 1945 was not relevant for National Socialist provenance research questions; likewise the Postcards and photographs stock with 2,256 items was not examined because it was deemed not to be significant (after samples were examined as part of the initial check).
Of the objects inspected thoroughly, i.e. those subjected to close visual examination, the ones academically documented were those that were relevant for the project, in order to remain within the limits of the project funding with regard to data collection and photographic documentation. All the recommendations of the initial check were thus taken into consideration.
The historic written object documentation that is still available was also systematically reviewed and checked, although many objects are no longer part of the present-day collection, mainly as a result of the war. However, from this we expected to find information on forms of acquisition, on protagonists and on other details that would be equally applicable to items from the old stock which were once again located in the collection from 1997 onward. The check included specifically 1,254 entries on the 1935 historic collection, 229 index cards from the Bialucha collection, 187 entries for items received for the Bialucha collection, 148 entries for the comparison list 1967–1977, 69 numbers for the acquisition list for material stocks of the town of Lübben 1977, in addition 135 + 9 + 12 + 13 items from the inventory lists of BHM Cottbus 1974.
For the same reasons, as well as to clarify the Nazi period of the Lübben museum, a total of 77 files (one had not yet reached the end of its retention period, so only partial information was permitted to be taken from it) were analyzed in six archives.
After the objects had been checked indirectly (i.e. through analyzing object documentation) and directly (i.e. thorough inspection), of the 6,577 and 2,056 items a total of 67 were classified as definitely worth exploring.
Of these 67 items, three were then assigned to the red category of “probably suspicious”: Inv. B 2516 and 2517 as unequivocally the prior possession of the Maćica Serbska, which was forcibly disbanded in 1937, and Inv. B 3154 as formerly belonging to the Catholic organization “Borromäusverein” in Lübben. 17 objects were assigned to the orange category of “questionable and requiring further research”. Various indicators make these objects still appear questionable, for example the circumstances of their discovery in 1945/46 (“on the floor of the town council”) or their entry into the collection in the years between 1935 and 1945, without any further details having been established based on files. We submitted reports on the objects in both categories to the Lost Art Database, thus clarifying the level of our knowledge.
The yellow category of “possibly questionable” contained 24 objects, and nine objects were assigned to the green category, “definitely not suspicious”.
There remained (a) three objects in focus that although constituting part of the museum’s suspicious historic stock, they had already been identified as missing when the collection was re-established in 1997 (i.e. after years of non-existence), and consequently were not incorporated into the restructuring of the museum.
Furthermore, there was (b) a remaining group of 11 paintings for which it was concluded that they should not only be examined as individual items, but also collectively as one lot (i.e. each with all the objects acquired in one and the same takeover or acquisition). All these paintings show inscriptions and numbers which are quite numerous to some extent, but which cannot be analyzed in their own right: viewing them in conjunction with possibly correlated inscriptions and numbers of other objects from the same source would be one way of analyzing them and would represent a systematic approach, as would be the checking of Nazi auction
catalogs and sales lists. However, the resulting additional effort could not be managed within the project period. Starting with the 11 paintings, further research would be required in the future that would build on that carried out in the approved project year.
List of persons and institutions that are historically relevant to the project
Karl Bialucha (1884–1961) Biology teacher from Oppeln (Silesia), botanist and voluntary head of the Lübben museum collection, reopened in 1950 as the “Cabinet of Natural History”. Bialucha’s systematic cataloging of objects and documentation of receipts did not start until 1955 and only continued consistently until 1958. He suffered long periods of illness in the following years until his death in 1961. After Bialucha’s term of office ended, a sole caretaker kept the Lübben museum open; after his retirement in 1969 the town’s museum collection was abandoned.
Albert Bock (1870–1943) Originally from Luckau, he was a businessman in Berlin. Bock was also a town councilor, a member of the voluntary fire service, the German Red Cross and the synagogue community, and the owner of two clothing stores in Lübben at Logenstraße 13 and Hauptstraße 46. His commercial circumstances became so precarious, particularly after the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses in 1933, that he was forced to sell his entire warehouse of goods and even the establishment itself at knockdown prices. His wife Elise Bock then died in 1935. The property of widower Albert Bock was completely expropriated in October 1942 and he was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in December 1942, where he died on February 28, 1943. – The archeological items indicating the provenance “Bock” in the Lübben museum were not owned by him, but were consigned by relatives of the carpenter Max Bock (see below).
Max Bock (1900–1945) Son of the master carpenter Paul Bock. He died on February 4, 1945, as a non-commissioned officer in the German army during fighting at Crossen (Oder). All objects in the Lübben collection marked with the designation of origin “Bock estate”, “Bock collection” or “Mrs/Widow Bock”, mostly prehistoric and early historic items, come from his household at Kirchstraße 31. They do not come from family members of the Jewish business owner Albert Bock (see above), as was presumed at the beginning of the project. – Max Bock of Lübben should not be confused with the member of the armed forces and resident of Oppen with the same name, who was General of Infantry Division 11 until 1939 and after that deputy commanding general and commander of military district XX (Wehrersatzbezirk Danzig). This Max Bock was captured and held in a Soviet prisoner of war camp, where he died on November 12, 1945.
Dr. Gertrud Haupt (1887 or 1890–1955) Born in Lübben as Emilie Gertrud Haupt at Pflaumenstraße 7. Her father was a teacher. She herself was the head of the district cultural office (the “art and literature division of Lübben local authority education department” and “head of division for art and cultural affairs for the Lübben district”) from 1945 to 1953, and resident at Treppendorfer Straße 1. Shortly afterwards she fled the GDR. A retired teacher, she died after an accident in 1955 in Nienburg (Weser). Her initiative and knowledge brought numerous lost items from the ruins of the town or from the rooms of the town council into the museum collection as salvaged objects. To date, the exact chains of provenance—apart from the consignment—remain unknown in all of these cases. Her personal file is not available in the Brandenburg State Archive, nor in the Dahme-Spreewald district archive.
Dr. Oskar Karpa (1899–1963) Member of Berlin senior administrative council and initially the chair of the circle of associations of German local history museums. He became a member of the National Socialist Party on May 1, 1933, and museum keeper for the province of Brandenburg on November 23, 1936 (see Georg Mirow), which meant Lübben’s antiquities collection fell under his guardianship. From May 15, 1939, he was also the expert for the monitoring of works of art with regard to Jewish emigration, and from July 22, 1941, one of the experts for the utilization of Jewish-owned jewelry and art objects. Also from 1941, he was the National Socialist district archivist for Brandenburg. With the move of the Brandenburg provincial administration, his official office was located in Potsdam from September 1939 onwards. He began his post-war career in 1949 as ministerial speaker in the Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture and became the head of conservation for Lower Saxony in 1952.
Georg Mirow (1880–1954) Art teacher, museum director in Müncheberg and Lebus, from 1912 director of the association of Brandenburg local history museums, from 1920 editor of the “Brandenburgische Museumsblätter”. He voluntarily resigned from this role in 1933 after his removal from all offices by the National Socialists (due to his membership of the SPD) and refused to join the National Socialist Party. Nevertheless, in 1936 he became deputy museum keeper for the province of Brandenburg (see Oskar Karpa) and from 1944 head of the office for prehistory and early history. His scientific estate, which is now scattered over several archives, contains photographs that were taken in all museums in the province for the provincial administration’s regional photographic service from 1920, for systematic partial cataloging of museum pieces and for the “Complete catalog of Brandenburg local history museums” from 1942. Up to June 1944, the Lübben museum collection was systematically cataloged and documented in photographs under the direction of Georg Mirow. Together with Oskar Karpa, he also coordinated the air-raid protection safety measures for the Brandenburg local history museums until 1945.
Prof. Paul Richter (1861–1941) High school teacher until 1926, chronicler, local historian and museum director. Together with high school professor Dr. Ernst Fischer, he founded Lübben local history museum in 1905, one of the first in the Niederlausitz region. He was also the Chairman of the Lübben Masonic lodge “Wilhelm zur Wahrheit und Brudertreue” until it was forced to close itself down in 1934. He left behind exact descriptions of the occupation of the lodge house by the SA and of the destruction and seizure of lodge property. He held the post of museum director continuously from 1905 until his death in 1941.
Adolph Wilhelmy (1856–1930) Businessman and owner of a men’s clothing store in Lübben since 1902. He died in Berlin in 1930, before the National Socialists came to power. His successor was his son Willy Wilhelmy (1885–1960), who emigrated to England with members of his family.
Wilhelm Wolff (1849–1937) Businessman in Lübben, and at the same time a synagogue leader for over 50 years. He owned residential and business premises at Hauptstraße 16 in Lübben. His first wife Frieda (née Schneider) died in 1890; his second wife Johanna (née Pinner) worked with him in his business. His fabric goods shop, established in 1875, was affected by the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses, so in 1936 the couple decided to move to a lodging house in Berlin (founded in 1921 by the B‘nai B‘rith Jewish organization) in Lange Straße. Wilhem Wolff died there a broken man on May 11, 1937. His brother and his children managed to emigrate. However, his wife Johanna was deported to Theresienstadt at the age of 83, where she died after just two weeks on August 31, 1942.
Press and publicity work to date has included the following contributions on the initial check carried out at Lübben museum, which led to the long-term research project:
- Feature on current provenance research in Brandenburg, in the “Zeitfragen” series (Deutschlandradio Kultur of June 24, 2015, by Maurice Wojach)
- “Die Kunst-Detektive” article (MAZ, April 11/12, 2015, by Maurice Wojach)
An example of a text that emerged as a direct result of project funding is the essay on the Lübben Freemasons (in connection with the object suspected of being of Masonic origin from Schloss Neuhaus, museum director Dr. Richter, the occupation of the Masonic lodge by the SA and the lodge liquidation in 1934), which is expected to be published in the Beiträgen aus dem Schloss Lübben/Niederlausitz.