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ERR Database of Art Objects Plundered by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in France and Belgium

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On 18 October 2010 this database at www.errproject.org/jeudepaume/ went online.  The database was created by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). Their press release of 18 October is set out below:

"The Nazi records and photographs of the looting of more than 20,000 individual art objects from Jews in France and Belgium are now online in a searchable database, which shows that at least half the objects have not been restituted to their original owners. This new listing – searchable by item, artist, owner, and whether items have been returned – should be consulted by museums, art dealers, and auction houses to determine whether they hold any Nazi-looted art, and by families seeking long-lost valuable heirlooms. 

Many families know or believe that relatives killed in the Holocaust owned artworks, but may not know the pieces’ names or artists; this list can help them search family holdings. However, there is no centralized claims process for unrestituted works in this database.  Unlike previous attempts to identify looted art, which have focused on museum collections or lists of claims from individual victims or their heirs, this new database aims to reconstruct the totality of what was seized and from whom, as well as what has been restituted, so as to produce a listing of looted art objects still believed to be “at large.”  

“Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume,” at www.errproject.org/jeudepaume, is a project of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) with technical support provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It reveals the fate of each of more than 20,000 art objects taken from more than 200 private Jewish collections in German-occupied France and Belgium between 1940 and 1944. 

 

The Third Reich engaged in an unprecedented, systematic campaign to plunder the cultural property of Europe’s Jews through theft, confiscation, and forced sales. A special task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), gathered hundreds of thousands of art objects and millions of books and archives stolen from Jews and other victims, as well as from museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions. The ERR worked in Nazi-occupied territories, with branches stretching from Paris eastward to Gorky, Russia. 

 

“Decades after the greatest mass theft in history, families robbed of their prized artworks can now search this list to help them locate long-lost treasures,” said Julius Berman, Claims Conference Chairman. “It is now the responsibility of museums, art dealers, and auction houses to check their holdings against these records to determine whether they might be in possession of art stolen from Holocaust victims. Organizing Nazi art-looting records is an important step in righting a historical wrong. It is not too late to restore art that should have been passed down within Jewish families instead of decorating Nazi homes or stored at Nazi sites.”

 

In Paris, the ERR documented each of more than 20,000 art objects on index cards or inventory lists, processing and sorting the looted objects at the Jeu de Paume, then dispatching them to repositories in Germany and Austria.  The database presents each of these records in electronic form, listing index card numbers, artwork titles, artists, and detailed descriptions of each work. Many entries include photos of the artworks or objects as well as a scan of the original Nazi record. The database can be searched by owner, artist, or collection, or a combination of criteria.

 

The database brings together the original ERR records that had been scattered after the war relating to the looted art processed at the Jeu de Paume. The records and historical data in the database had been dispersed among three major repositories--the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States, the Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) of Germany, and the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MAEE) of France.

 

The website also includes photos of ERR personnel processing and sorting looted cultural property of Jewish families. Photos relating to Nazi art looting usable for print are at www.claimscon.org/artphotos.

 

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) represents world Jewry in negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs. The Claims Conference administers compensation funds, recovers unclaimed Jewish property, and allocates funds to institutions that provide social welfare services to Holocaust survivors and preserve the memory and lessons of the Shoah. For more information: www.claimscon.org. The Claims Conference works in collaboration with the World Jewish Restitution Organization on the Looted Jewish Art and Cultural Property Initiative."

 
Additional Background on “Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume”:  www.errproject.org/jeudepaume

 

A “special task force,” the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), headed by Hitler’s leading ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, gathered hundreds of thousands of art objects and millions of books and archives stolen from Jews and other victims, as well as from museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions. The ERR worked in Nazi-occupied territories, with branches stretching from Paris eastward to Gorky, Russia. 

 

The new database can also be useful to provenance researchers, museum curators, art dealers, and governments in order to improve identification of Nazi-looted artworks that are being sold or are currently in museums. It will be of great interest to historians and anyone interested in cultural life in France during the inter-war period as well as general matters of Nazi cultural policy. 

 

Restitution efforts regarding looted art have in the past yielded far fewer results than efforts to restitute other assets such as property and financial holdings. This is due to the ease of transporting art across international borders, the lack of public records documenting original ownership, the difficulty of tracing art transactions through the decades, and the lack of a central authority to arbitrate claims for artwork. 

 

The website also includes photos of ERR personnel processing and sorting looted cultural property of Jewish families. In addition, there is the handwritten list from the Möbel-Aktion (M-Aktion; literally “Furniture Action”), which stripped furnishings and possessions from the homes of Jews who had fled or were deported. There is also a handwritten Nazi list of unidentified Jewish-owned art taken in France.

 

The online database consists of historical data extracted and culled from archival documents located in three major repositories--the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States, the Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) of Germany, and the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MAEE) of France.   

 

Some observations based on the information in the database include: 

 

·About half of the more than 20,000 objects listed were never repatriated, much lessrestituted to their owners.

 

·Jewish collectors, artists, art historians, and art dealers in Francecollected everything from 18thcentury furniture to medievalcrucifixes to African masks to Japanese netsuke. Because of the plunder of privatecollections, the database provides a view of cultural productions thatpreviously had been removed from the public sphere.

 

·Many works have never been seen before by the public or even by specialists,especially works that the Germans intended to destroy because of their impurenature according to Nazi ideology. Thedatabase provides the opportunity to explore unknown works by artists, as manythat were slated for destruction were either sold or kept by Nazis.

 

·There are a number of Jewish artists who had been quite active in inter-war Paris andwhose collections were stolen – e.g., Naum Aronson, Auxente (Alexandra Pregel), Eugen Spiro, Michel Georges-Michel – and these collections are reflected in the database, which also contains works by Jewish artists like Chaim Soutine, Jules Pascin, Camille Pissarro, Jean Adler, Henri Epstein, Marc Chagall, and many others that surprisingly were not destroyed by the Germans.

The database is one of three interrelated endeavors regarding ERRrecords, initiated under the Looted Art and Cultural Property Initiative of the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Restitution Organization: www.claimscon.org/art. 

 

The other two activities are:

 

·The online publication of hundreds of thousands of pages of ERR documents held inKiev, Ukraine by the Central State Archive (TsDAVO) athttp://tsdavo.org.uaandin Berlin and Koblenz, Germany by the Federal Archives of Germany (Bundesarchiv)at www.bundesarchiv.de/benutzung/zeitbezug/nationalsozialismus/index.html.enandhttp://startext.net-build.de:8080/barch/MidosaSEARCH/NS30/index.htm as part of imaging and making accessible the scattered ERR files worldwide. These are the largest collections of ERR records and detail plunder from Belgium, Northern France, the Netherlands, Italy, and the former Yugoslavia, as well as the occupied Soviet territories. They relate to theft of all kinds from Jewish communal and private collections to the collections of the Russian imperial palaces and various state libraries and museums. The Claims Conference arranged for the documents to be imaged and adapted for the Internet.

 

·A survey and description of the current locations of ERR records, which are in 29 archives in nine countries. The online publication by the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, of “Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder: A Survey of the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR)” will soon be available atwww.iisg.nl/publications/digipub.php#respap.

In 2006, the Claims Conference released the results of a survey showing that U.S. art museums had made limited progress in determining the extent to which they may hold artworks looted from Holocaust victims. The survey of 332museums showed that at most, full research had been done on 12 percent of covered objects (works in their collections that were created before 1946 and acquired by the museum after 1932, underwent a change of ownership between 1932and 1946, and that were or might reasonably be thought to have been in continental Europe between those dates).

 

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