About This Project
With support from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has over the past decades brought together microform records of the Holocaust from archives all over the world. At the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets co-hosted in 1998 by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with the U.S. Department of State, attention turned to the importance of archival records in understanding the plunder of art and other cultural property by the Nazis and their allies. Subsequently at a seminar presentation at the Museum in February 2000, Patricia Kennedy Grimsted made an appeal for a virtual compendium of the widely dispersed records of one of the most important Nazi cultural looting agencies, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). This idea was discussed with interest by delegates from many countries later that year at the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Cultural Assets in October, 2000, where Dr. Grimsted suggested that a model project would be to digitize the registration card files produced by the ERR of art taken from French Jewish collections and held by the National Archives of the United States and to bring them together with the ERR photographs of those same artworks held by the Federal Archives of Germany (Bundesarchiv). During the next few years, Dr. Grimsted continued to investigate the locations of the scattered ERR files and completed an article on patterns of ERR library and archival plunder published in 2004 Museum’s journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies, followed by a research note the following year surveying the dispersed ERR records that have survived in many countries. At the same time, the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) began a comprehensive program to assist the further restitution of Jewish-owned art and cultural property lost and plundered during the Holocaust. Unlike other areas of restitution, there has been no large-scale attempt to determine the full scope of cultural property seized by the Nazis and their allies that has not been restituted. Instead, following the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in 1998, the focus has been limited to checking the provenance of current museum collections and on claims made by individual survivors and heirs of owners. In light of all this, the Claims Conference aimed to reconstruct the historical-archival record so as (1) to develop listings of what was plundered by the Nazis and their allies; (2) to assemble listings of cultural property known to have been restituted; and thereby (3) to produce net listings of outstanding items of cultural property still to be returned. (Information regarding the Claims Conference/WJRO Looted Art and Cultural Property Initiative may be found at http://www.claimscon.org/art/.)
The Claims Conference therefore undertook to support three major activities in regard to the records of the ERR. First is the online publication of Dr. Grimsted’s compendium, Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder: A Survey of the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) (International Institute of Social History IISH-IISG, Amsterdam, 2010, at http://www.iisg.nl/publications/errsurvey/). Second is the imaging of the ERR files in Kyiv, Moscow, Vilnius, Berlin, Koblenz, Amsterdam, Paris, New York, and Washington with a view to making the ERR records generally available. And the third is the joint creation with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum of this Database of Art Objects processed at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, France, between the fall of 1940 and early August 1944 (Marc Masurovsky, project director).
This database consists of historical data extracted and culled from archival documents primarily located in three major international archival repositories. The basic description of the objects processed by the ERR in the Jeu de Paume is found on cards that their staff typed. These cards contain the description of the art objects and are now stored at the National Archives in College Park, MD, among U.S. postwar restitution files within the records of the United States Office of Military Government—OMGUS (RG 260), available to readers as part of NARA Microfilm Publication M 1943. The photographs of the art objects described on the ERR cards come from NARA (RG 260, collections 260-ERR and 260-ERRA) and also from the Bundesarchiv (Federal Archives) in Koblenz, Germany, found among the records of the West German restitution office, the Trust Administration for Cultural Assets (Treuhandverwaltung für Kulturgut, TVK), (Bestand B323), as part of incorporated collections of documents and photographs pertaining to art-looting in German-occupied Europe and postwar restitution efforts in western Germany. The TVK – and hence its records – was a successor to the United States occupation government cultural restitution program described below. Also among the TVK records, the database also draws on data from the original ERR inventories prepared during the war, including shipping inventories to repositories in Bavaria and Austria. Information pertaining to the repatriation of these stolen art objects to the countries from which they were taken comes from a varied set of postwar documents produced by U.S., German and French agencies responsible for overseeing and coordinating the location, identification and restitution of art objects removed from French territory during the period of German occupation. The vast majority of the French documents come from the major collection of repatriation and restitution files generated by the Commission for Recovery of Art (Commission pour la Récuperation artistique, CRA) and the Private Property and Assets Office (Office des Biens et Intérêts Privés, OBIP), held by the Archives of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (Ministère des Affaires étrangères e européeennes, MAEE). For additional information on the archival sources used, see Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder: A Survey of the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg.
This database should prove useful not only to the victims of Nazi plunder or their heirs but also to historians, provenance researchers, museum curators, art dealers, and anyone interested in cultural life in France during the inter-war period as well as general matters of Nazi cultural policy.
Provenance research has grown significantly as a professional field and a subject of academic study over the past decade. For that reason, this project represents a paradigm shift. Instead of looking at collections in museums or at lists of objects being sought by claimants, this database of art objects processed through the Jeu de Paume aims to reconstruct what was seized and from whom, and it attempts to determine what items among those seized were repatriated and restituted to their owners or heirs after the war.
Users should be sure to see the section on how to use the database and the section on disclaimers.