Bündel im Stahlschrank - Bundle in the Steel Locker

Süddeutsche Zeitung 13 April 2013

To read the article in the original German about the discovery of Weinmüller's own annotated auction catalogues dating from 1936-1945 in the basement of the Neumeister auction house, which show details of the looted families from whom the consignments originated and to whom they were sold, click here.

English summary:

The Munich auction house Neumeister, formerly Weinmüller, is dealing with the dark history of the Third Reich: Long-missing documents have reappeared, a breakthrough in the restitution of art from Jewish ownership.

Katrin Stoll has for a long time wanted to spring clean the history of Neumeister which she took over in February 2008 as sole owner and managing director. Her parents, Christa and Rudolf Neumeister, had taken over the Adolf Weinmüller auction  house in 1958 which established itself with a monopoly on the Munich art market in 1936. In order to assess the dark history of the dealer in the Nazi era, Ms Stoll, together with the Bureau for Provenance Research, instigated an independent research project of art historian Meike Hopp. But in the archives of Neumeister there was disappointingly little information. However, Hopp put together through extensive research with the support of the Central Institute for Art History in Munich (ZIKG) an impressive and detailed account of the Munich art trade after 1933.  Weinmüller managed to influence Nazi offices and associations with regard to the restructuring of the art market and to force Jewish art dealers to give up their businesses as early as 1935. Their assets he was then able to sell and he became the primary seller of such assets. Weinmüller's business was based on confiscations and liquidations of Jewish property. He had the monopoly in Munich. Hopp's highly praised study was published in late 2012.

Two weeks' ago a phone call came in from Neumeister, 'We have found some old books, not in the archives, not in the warehouse but in a steel locker in the technician's room'. They were lined up and ordered in chronological bundles. They are complete catalogues, handwriten and annotated, of 33 Weinmüller auctions between 1936-1945. The so-called protocols note the surnames of the consignors and purchasers, the estimates and the realised prices. They are signed by the Finanzamt. There are also further catalogues which are titled 'Weinmüller personal copies' and 'Office copies'.

The documents include lists which explain the abbreviations of the names coded by number and letters. There are even some lists of private sales and commissions. Weinmüller however claimed in all the post-war proceedings against him that his business documents were burned during the war. But when it came to information that would be helpful to him, somehow he always had the matching personal copy of the necessary document available. This was discovered by Hopp when she reviewed all the case files involving him.

The discovery of the catalogues, amongst which are 11 of the 18 Weinmuller auctions in Vienna, are annotated in a way to disguise the information.  This has considerable consequences for current provenance research and ongoing restitution proceedings as it is now possible to identify, based on the names of the consignors, entire Jewish owned collections up to autumn in 1941. After 1941 the Gestapo is mentioned more and more as the consignor.

On the purchasers' side of the protocols, the surnames of the purchasers are listed, among which are many museums, including in Munich the Bavarian State Paintings Collections, the Bavarian National Museum and the Municipal Gallery Lenbachhaus.

The Bremen Kunsthalle, which only a few days ago returned a drawing of the Baroque artist Giacomo Cavedone to the heirs of art dealer Michael Berolzheimer, is also among the list of purchasing museums. In the course of a systematic provenance research effort which was started in 2010, it was established that the drawing was purchased by Bremen art dealer Arnold Blome at a Weinmüller auction and was then sold to the Museum by him. From the discovery of these catalogues it is now clear that the Bremen Kunsthalle purchased graphic works at the same Weinmüller auction of Old Masters in March 1939 which were previously owned by Munich art dealer and collector Siegfried Laemmle.

Laemmle had to auction off his assets after the "restructuring of Jewish art dealers" that took place in Munich in autumn 1935. This was initiated by Weinmüller. 60 art and antique dealers were forced to relinquish their assets. Laemmle had to sell his assets in order to escape to Los Angeles in September 1938. His private collection, which included valuable medieval sculptures, was confiscated at the shipping company where they were stored in1938. Laemmle objects are listed in four Weinmüller catalogues. Strangely, there were two different consignment abbreviations used: ' O', and 'E. in M.'. Among the buyers was not only the Bavarian National Museum but also the Jewish art dealer, Bernheimer, who was among the 17 art dealers who, based on their trade on the international market and ability to bring in foreign currency, were allowed to continue trading until 1938. Otto Bernheimer apparently tried to save Laemmle's best pieces for Laemmle, among which was a bronze rhinoceros dated 1600. A few months after the auction, Bernheimer was arrested and incarcerated in Dachau. His family was able to emigrate, his business was aryanised.

Thanks to the protocols, the real names of the previous Jewish owners can be identified.

The auction protocols of Weinmüller document tragedies. All the objects forcibly sold from the property of Theodor Einstein can be identified. The heir, Arthur Einstein, applied for restitution in 1946. The restitution proceeding, however, was dismissed on 24 November 1949 as the claimant 'had no relevant proof'. So Weinmüller lied at that time when he stated that he no longer had any relevant records. Now there is finally a chance for late justice even though it barely deserve the name of that any more.

The discovered protocols are a central key in ongoing restitution efforts. Through receiving the real names,museums conducting research can learn the identity of the rightful owners. This is also a help in responding to false claims. The almost completed joint research project at the Bavarian State Paintings Collections, the Municipal Gallery Lenbachhaus and the Munich Municipal Museum into Jewish collectors in Munich now has extensive further material as a result of the discovery. With the images from the catalogues, the identity of the paintings can be established as too can the nature of the collections built up by the dispossessed collectors. This extraordinary source should be urgently used to research the history of Jewish art dealing in Munich.

Neumeister owner Scholl wants to clean up the maze of her corporate offices. There is also the post-war era to be researched. Among the questions is whether Neumeister knew about the auction protocols and used them. Further research requests have been made.
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