Initial check of museum holdings in Altmärkisches Museum Stendal, Danneil-Museum Salzwedel, Gleimhaus Halberstadt, Museum Aschersleben and Museum Schloss Moritzburg Zeitz
- Susanne Kopp-Sievers
Projektbericht_Ansprechpartner_FunktionWissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin Provenienzforschung
- October 2016 to February 2017
An initial check for Nazi-confiscated property was carried out in Saxony-Anhalt in the following museums: Städtisches Museum Aschersleben, Danneil-Museum Salzwedel, Altmärkisches Museum Stendal, Museum Schloß Moritzburg Zeitz and the Gleimhaus Halberstadt.
The four town and regional museums are publicly funded. The Gleimhaus in Halberstadt is run by an association. The museums’ collections were established long before 1933. The four town and regional museums cover a range of subject areas with a typical mix of archeological, local history, art, natural history and ethnological holdings.
The project was a pilot project in the Saxony-Anhalt museum sector. The aim was to clarify whether there was any suspicion of the unlawful acquisition of objects by the museums that would require further in-depth provenance research for cultural assets seized as a result of Nazi persecution. The research was carried out on site at the museums. The search mainly focused on objects received during the period 1933–1945. However, the period from 1945 to the 1950s was also taken into account as it was possible that post-war acquisitions may also have been unlawfully seized during the Nazi period.
Possible suspicious acquisitions seized as a result of Nazi persecution were identified in all five museums and in-depth provenance research was recommended. The acquisitions include objects of Jewish, Masonic and Socialist origin and, in Aschersleben, ethnological origin (Fig. 3). These suspicious items led the researchers to suggest that, in all cases, all of the acquisitions made by the museums in the period between 1933 and 1945 should be examined. The items found in the Gleimhaus indicate that the holdings might possibly contain objects from the former synagogue in Halberstadt. However, verification of this requires not only in-depth provenance research but also contextual research on the Halberstadt synagogue, which has not been carried out to date.
In Zeitz, there are suspicious items that could indicate post-war acquisitions were made of items obtained as a result of Nazi persecution. For example, in 1955, high-quality prints by prominent artists were purchased at a fair market value for the time (Fig. 1 and 2). The case of Zeitz shows that research is essential into the role of the art and antiques trade in Central Germany during the Nazi period and also in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR.
In Salzwedel, the case of Walter Neuling (1894–1973), museum director in Salzwedel from 1948 to 1955, not only points to his various involvements during the Nazi period but also far into the GDR, and his close ties to other museums such as Potsdam Museum.
The results of the initial check have significantly increased the museums’ level of knowledge about their history and collections. The five comprehensive final reports detail the need for action in each case. These not only refer to questionable acquisitions between 1933 and 1945 and afterwards, but also to the need to explore some of the enduring powerful legends surrounding the activities of the museums and their leading figures during the Nazi period.
A final meeting was held with each of the participating museums at which an extensive final report was handed over to them. There are plans to publish an article on the project in the “Museumsnachrichten” (Museum News) journal of Museumsverband Sachsen-Anhalt e.V.
The project was accompanied by extensive publicity activities including a public event run by the German Lost Art Foundation at the Kulturhistorisches Museum Magdeburg on the subject of provenance research in Saxony-Anhalt, as well as television and radio reports on MDR and Deutschlandradio Kultur. The results of the first round of the initial check have since motivated 17 other museums to carry out initial checks for Nazi-confiscated property.