Provenance Research is aiming to electronically search through the approximately 42,000 personal files of the “Vermögensverwertungsstelle“ of the OFP Berlin-Brandenburg for evidence of Nazi-looted art. On the one hand, looted art and cultural assets shall be assigned to their former owners. On the other hand, a targeted search of the files shall determine which institutions and persons acquired art objects when they were expropriated for the benefit of the state treasury. If they are registered in the Lost-Art Database, descendants of victims of Nazi persecution or their representatives receive results on found locations. Public institutions are informed, if any Nazi looted art is suspected in their collection.
Systematic Expropriation and Monetisation of Jewish Property as a Field of Research
The Provenance research focuses on the official procedures in the files which – legitimised by the 11th Decree to the Reich Citizenship Law of November 1941 – served to fill the state coffers and to co-finance the war as quickly as possible and without further bureaucratic effort. The Nazi State aimed to completely monetise so-called Jewish property. This includes art and cultural objects documented as the last belongings of the deportees as well as „moving goods“ (Umzugsgut) of refugees that had been confiscated and stored for years.
Who acquired Nazi looted art and where might these works be located today? In an attempt to track legal successors of buyers at the time and current locations of the art objects, the research concentrates on the Führermuseum Linz, the National Museums of Berlin, Nazi ministries and other actors who were privileged by laws and official decrees to obtain art objects from former Jewish ownership. One priority of research therefore is the „Verwertung durch Versteigerung“ (realisation by auction) ordered by the authorities from March 1941 onwards and all related processes.
Defining Requirements for Electronic Evaluation
In order to be able to define requirements for the data management system to be developed, the provenance researchers are currently evaluating digital test files. Those are exemplary for the range of documents on art looting created at the „Vermögensverwertungsstelle“.
The Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Ministry of Science, Research and Culture of the State of Brandenburg as funding institutions involved in the project wish to express Germany’s moral obligation to restitute cultural property looted or extorted during the Nazi era to the legal successors of victims of National Socialist persecution. There is no legal basis in Germany for this purely moral commitment made with the signing of the Washington Principles in 1998. Restitution is based on voluntary action. The project shall help to confirm art ownership and identify locations of looted art in order to specify Nazi art looting and close existing provenance gaps.