InventARISIERT, The Looting of Furniture from Jewish Households: an exhibition at the Imperial Furniture Collection (Kaiserliches Hofmobiliendepot), Vienna between 7 September and 19 November 2000
Created in 1747, the Imperial Furniture Collection was responsible for furnishing imperial lodgings. After the fall of the monarchy in 1918, it was used as a furniture and fittings depot for government offices. The Imperial Furniture Collection is now a museum and one of the two Furniture Depository Museums (Museen des Mobiliendepots), together with the Imperial Silver Collection (Hofsilber- und Tafelkammer). They are both administered by the Federal Furniture Administration (Bundesmobilienverwaltung) which also manages a still active furniture depository.
Following Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938, an estimated 70,000 apartments were "aryanized" (confiscated) in Vienna. The owners had emigrated or had been deported, and their household goods were seized by the Gestapo. 5,000 objects from eight seized Jewish households, those of Hugo Breitner, Viktor Ephrussi, Wilhelm Goldenberg, Moritz König, Oskar Pöller, Hedwig Schwarz, Emil Stiaßny and Paul Weiß, were listed and stored at the Imperial Furniture Collection in 1938. After 1939, 575 of these items entered its collection and thus became state property. Some of the objects were used to furnish the offices of Nazi officials or homes or were lent out to associations. A few were sold. Many objects were destroyed by bombing or lost during the war.
The exhibition documents this history. Details of the history of the depository and the eight households (including biographical information and chronological overviews from confiscation to post-war claims or restitution efforts) can be consulted on the website in both English and German. As mentioned above, only a fraction of the 5,000 objects seized from the households listed above entered the depository's collection. The remaining objects were distributed or sold to organisations and private individuals. The more valuable ones were put up for auction at the Dorotheum (30 unidentified items from the Schwarz household in 1942; c. 150 objects from the Stiaßny household in 1944) or handed to the National Library in Vienna by the Gestapo (69 books from the Breitner household in December 1939; an unknown number of books from the Ephrussi household in June 1939 (directly by the Gestapo without passing through the depository); 85 books from the Goldenberg household in August 1941; 75 books (May 1942) and several art objects (1939/42) from the Schwarz household and 114 books from the Stiaßny household in 1941/44). 176 objects including works of art, decorative objects and historical weaponry were handed to Viennese museums (including the Museum of Art History (Kunsthistorisches Museum), the Museum of Natural History (Naturhistorisches Museum), the State Museum of Arts and Crafts (Staatliches Kunstgewerbemuseum) and the Museum of Science and Technology (Technisches Museum).
In 1945, the depository did not heed the "Law on the Registration of Aryanised and Other Assets Seized in Connection with the Assumption of Power by the National Socialists" and failed to alert the authorities to the presence of the objects remaining in its collection some of which continued to be utilized in government offices decades later. Two requests for the restitution of confiscated items in the depository were made in 1946 and 1948. The request made on behalf of Viktor Ephrussi in 1946 resulted in the return of objects in July 1948, but some items remained at the depot and were returned to his family only in 2000. The request by Hedwig Schwarz in 1948 resulted in the return of carpets, two busts and 15 paintings (she was however charged for restoration work on three of the paintings) in 1951. Her furniture, at the time loaned out by the depository, was not returned to her. In October 1969, c. 1,300 objects (mainly crockery, cutlery, porcelain, glasses) which had been deposited in the Imperial Silver Collection were put up for auction at the Dorotheum as 'heirless' objects on behalf of the Collection Points A and B. These Collection Points had been created by the First Artistic and Cultural Assets Settlement Act (27 June 1969) and served as a collecting points for material supposed 'heirless'. According to the exhibition's website, the addresses of two of the families (Stiaßny and Breitner), part of whose confiscated property had been deposited in the silverware collection, were known to the authorities at the time. The proceeds from the auction were utilised to benefit "the politically and racially persecuted".
The Imperial Furniture Collection began to research the objects remaining in its collection in 1994. As a Federal Collection, the Imperial Furniture Collection falls under the 1998 Federal State Act on the Return of Cultural Objects from the Austrian Federal Museums and Collections. On the basis of the Act, the 152 objects identified were held ready to be returned to the families of their former owners. They are listed in the Second Federal Restitution Report under the names of their owners. After intensive research, all but one of the heirs have now been identified and the objects have been returned. At the time of writing, the Imperial Furniture Collection continues to search for heirs of Emil Stiaßny and would be grateful for any relevant information.
As part of an installation in the exhibition, the objects remaining at the depository were photographed individually in the storage space. Later, the inventory number they had been assigned in 1939 was superimposed over the image along with information on their trajectory and current location. Where the object had been destroyed or lost, the text was superimposed over a photograph of the empty storage space. Several photographs can be seen on the exhibition's website. Press releases in German, English and French on the concept and realisation of the exhibition are also available here.
A symposium entitled Art Looting in Austria (Kunstraub in Österreich) was held at the Imperial Furniture Collection on 17-18 November 2000 to coincide with the closing of the exhibition.
Dr. Ilsebill Barta-Fliedl
Wissenschaftliche Leitung der Museen des Mobiliendepots
Tel: +43 (0)1 71100 5610
Fax: +43 (0)1 7142720
http://www.iff.ac.at/inventarisiert/ in German and English
'Inventarisiert' website <http://www.iff.ac.at/inventarisiert/>, first accessed 24 January 2003.
Bundesmobilienverwaltung: <http://www.mobilienverwaltung.at/index.html>, first accessed 24 January 2003.
Imperial Furniture Collection <http://www.hofmobiliendepot.at/en/site/publicdir/>, first accessed 24 January 2003. Link updated 16 July 2007.
Historians' Commission <http://www.historikerkommission.gv.at/program/e_law1.html>, first accessed 24 January 2003.