The author is currently preparing a book on the Vugesta.
This is an article on the VUGESTA by Dr. Robert Holzbauer, a member of the Commission for Provenance Research. The text was published in the periodical Spurensuche in 2000.
According to Holzbauer, the Vugesta or Vugestap, as it was first called, sold the stored property of 5,000 - 6,000 families and the house or apartment furnishings of more than 10,000 families between its creation in September 1940 and the end of the war. The author notes that although the name - an acronym for Verwertungsstelle für jüdisches Umzugsgut der Gestapo (Office for the Disposal of the Property of Jewish Emigrants) - appears to suggest that the Vugesta was an institution of the Nazi state and it did indeed work closely with the Gestapo, the Vugesta was created as a result of the initiative of the Austrian shipping and removal industry. He suggests that this illustrates the significant involvement of the private sector in Nazi looting.
Holzbauer outlines the development of the pseudo-legal framework which "legalised" access to Jewish property under the Nazi regime. He argues that this had the dual purpose of providing 'guidelines' for the Nazi bureaucracy and a justification of these actions to the wider population. It provided the basis for the 'securing', confiscation, seizing and annulling of Jewish assets. Most confiscations were legitimised by the 'Ordinance on the Seizure of Assets of Enemies of the People and the State in Austria' (18 November 1938), but other methods were used as well, for example discriminatory taxes such as the Reichsfluchtsteuer (emigration tax) and the Judenvermögensabgabe (a tax of 25 % on Jewish assets), with art collections and furnishing frequently confiscated as payment against them.
The next phase of Nazi looting of Jewish assets in Austria was characterised by an increasing permissiveness of the legislation and the 'automatisation' of dispossession. An infamous example is the 11th by-law to the Reich Citizenship Law (Reichsbürgergesetz) in November 1941, which denationalised all Jewish persons residing abroad. As the territories occupied by the German Reich were also classed as being abroad, this also included most concentration and extermination camps inmates. With the loss of citizenship, all property fell to the German Reich.
Describing the creation of the Vugesta in the section 'Formation of the Vugesta' ('Errichtung der Vugesta'), Holzbauer writes that the agency resulted "from the aim to gain access to the property of those who had already succeeded in fleeing abroad" and whose stored property could not be shipped because of the war. A decree issued by the Reich Central Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) on 1 August 1940 denationalised Jewish emigrants and regulated the auctioning of goods stored for shipment abroad. Dr. Karl Ebner from the 'Judenreferat' of the Vienna Gestapo headquarters contacted Karl Herber, director of the Reich Group for Shipping and Storage in the 'Ostmark' (Reichsgruppe Spedition und Lagerei/ Ostmark) (Austria was known as 'Ostmark' under the Nazi regime). Karl Herber, ostensibly worried about how the shipping and storage firms would receive payment for the storage costs accumulating for property stuck in Austria, presented a plan to dispose of the goods in order to 'pay' for these storage costs. Herber, Ebner and the relevant tax office in Berlin-Moabit soon came to an agreement. As a result, Herber was instructed by the Gestapo to implement the seizure, sale and invoice clearing for all property of Jewish emigrants still stored in Vienna. The Vugesta company was created on 7 September 1940 with Herber as its director. The Vugesta's profit was commission-based. It had 12 members of staff and was located at Bauernmarkt 24 in Vienna.
Originally everything was to be put up for auction through the Dorotheum, the formerly state-owned auction house in Vienna, but additional locations were later chosen including two halls on the Trade Fair grounds, the Sophiensäle (a seasonal swimming pool/dance hall) and at the Schanzstrasse branch of the Dorotheum in Vienna, "All works of art in the narrow sense were put up for auction in the Dorotheum" and according to the 'Führervorbehalt', Hitler had first choice of all works of art.
In the next section, Holzbauer examines who the buyers were, noting that the sale of the stored property of Jewish emigrants could be said to be part of a national socialist 'policy of redistribution'. He writes that sales were intended to be restricted to the needy, soldiers wounded in the war and those made homeless as a result of air raids. Potential buyers had to register at the local NSDAP office which checked the need, reliability and net income of the buyer. Because of the war, many of the goods stored were in short supply and an economy of favours and privileges also flourished, with the Vugesta's director himself purchasing goods, including alcohol and works of art, for a total of c. 3,500 RM (Reichsmark). Holzbauer concludes that the Vugesta appears as a "self-help project of the Austrian shipping and storage industry". The sale of the property of Jewish emigrants was completed by the end of 1942, and Holzbauer goes on to discuss the new role the Vugesta took on after that date.
The Gestapo proposed that the Vugesta take on the disposal of property remaining in apartments of Jewish individuals who had emigrated or had been deported, an offer Herber declined as it did not fit his professional capacity as a removal expert. According to Holzbauer, this 'second' phase of the Vugesta's activity was very different from the first, taking place at a time in which confiscations and looting had become 'automatised'. This resulted in a more informal (and therefore also less documented) procedure.
Appraisers took the leading role in the confiscation and disposal of apartment and house furnishings. Based in furniture disposal units (Möbelverwertungsstellen), they were paid by the Vugesta and provided with Jewish forced labourers by the Gestapo. From mid-1942 the Vugesta's main furniture disposal point was located at Krummbaumgasse 8, in a former building of the Jewish community. Holzbauer writes that one can see the furniture disposal units as agents of the Vugesta, despite the fact that the relative informality of the confiscation procedures has tended to obscure its precise character (no one could agree, for instance, whether it was really an agency of the Vugesta, the Gestapo or the tax office). Holzbauer points out, however, that even though not all confiscations were handled directly by the Vugesta, the accounts of the furniture disposal units were managed there.
According to Holzbauer, the three individuals most connected with the Vugesta are Leopold Berke, Anton Grimm and Bernhard Witke. The latter had been an illegal Nazi since 1932 and worked as an appraiser for the Vugesta. He appears to have managed the main Vugesta furniture disposal point (Möbelverwertungsstelle) at Krummbaumgasse 8 and was also the co-proprietor of an 'aryanised' antiques business, 'Oberhuber und Witke'.
In the concluding section of his essay, Holzbauer provides an overview of the post-1945 situation. The economic aspect of the Vugesta's activities was examined by courts and public authroities after the war and is therefore very well documented. According to him, the total revenue of the Vugesta can be estimated at c. 15 million RM (Reichsmark), 11 million of which alone came from Dorotheum sales. The chances of the victims of the Vugesta recovering their property were very slim.
Spurensuche 1-2/2000, 38-50
AEIOU - The Austrian Cultural Information System <http://www.aeiou.at/aeiou.encyclop.s/s662516.htm >, accessed 11 March 2003