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'Warum es nicht funktioniert, keine NS-Provenienzforschung zu betreiben: Ein Bullshit-Bingo anlässlich 20 Jahre Washingtoner Prinzipien und Österreichisches Kunstrückgabegesetz'

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Warum es nicht funktioniert, keine NS-Provenienzforschung zu betreiben: Ein Bullshit-Bingo anlässlich 20 Jahre Washingtoner Prinzipien und Österreichisches Kunstrückgabegesetz


Markus Stumpf


October 2018


Available online at the University of Vienna's Phaidra site at

Summary of the essay:

After a scholarly introduction about the importance of carrying out provenance research given the anniversary of the Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets and the Österreichischen Kunstrückgabegesetz (Austrian Restitution Law) and the upcoming Berlin Conference in November 2018 Markus Stumpf stresses that it is necessary to remind institutions about the importance of provenance research.

However, after realising that the same arguments against provenance research have been practised over and over again, Markus Stumpf tries to summarise them. He relies on his and other provenance researcher’s experiences. He calls the result a new variation of Bullshit-Bingo. 

Instructions on how to play the game are:

To play the game one has to find evidence that an object has been looted by the Nazis. This is followed by a meeting with the management of the relevant institution which owns the object to discuss if provenance research is necessary and if it should be carried out.

During the conversation each excuse which is provided by the relevant institution should be crossed off the game. He illustrates the game on the second page, its title:

Bullshit-Bingo: Die Beliebtesten NS-Provenienzforschungsausreden
(Bullshit Bingo: The most popular NS Provenance research excuses).

Further explanations of the different fields are provided in the 'Comments' section of his essay.

He lists as popular excuses not to carry out provenance research:

  1. We would, but…
  2. You'd have to check everything!?
  3. That’s too expensive. – We don’t receive any funding for it.
  4. We were founded after the Second World War.
  5. We don’t have any records or files.
  6. That was an essential compensation for our losses in the war.
  7. We can’t find any heirs.
  8. We have looked into this / We are done with provenance research
  9. There is no legal basis to have to do this. / Provenance research is not required by law.
  10. That doesn’t have any value, these are just books, these things only have scientific value.
  11. Claims have already expired. They weren’t able to produce any evidence.
  12. If we can get items back from the Napoleonic campaigns, then...
  13. When the Russians/ Americans/ Israelis check their holdings….
  14. Our institution was in the resistance, so to speak. – We are a proper institution; we don’t have anything like this!
  15. No one is interested in such things!
  16. But we saved our cultural heritage!

Once a full horizontal, vertical or diagonal line can be ticked off by the provenance researcher, one has to shout ‘Bullshit’.

Markus Stumpf then further notes that playing this game is of course completely inappropriate and he just wanted to summarise the excuses he and his colleagues have heard over the course of time and that there are indeed many reasons to carry out provenance research in any institution. In these cases, the Washington Principles and the Österreichischen Kunstrückgabegesetz (Austrian Restitution Law) provide the appropriate guidance.


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