A Christ returns

The German Lost Art Foundation hands over a crucifix to the descendants of the Jewish collector Ottmar Strauss.

The German Lost Art Foundation hands over a crucifix to the descendants of the Jewish collector Ottmar Strauss.

Today, Tuesday 14 November 2023, the German Lost Art Foundation handed over a crucifix to the lawyer of the heiress and heir of German-Jewish entrepreneur Ottmar Strauss (1878-1941) which had been submitted to the Foundation in Magdeburg with a request for it to be returned. Potentially dating back to the 13th century, the work of art arrived in a parcel at the Foundation’s headquarters in Magdeburg at the end of August 2023. Enclosed with it was a request to return the crucifix anonymously to the heirs of Ottmar Strauss.

A search in the Lost Art Database operated by the Foundation revealed that the item, which measures barely 20 centimetres in height, has been listed as a wanted item since 2006. Foundation staff immediately contacted the lawyers of the person seeking the item. It was swiftly established that the bronze crucifix received in Magdeburg was identical to the object they were looking for – a bronze “Corpus Christi with crown” that had once belonged to Cologne entrepreneur Ottmar Strauss.

Strauss owned a large collection of antiques, in particular religious art from the Middle Ages. He was persecuted as a Jew after the National Socialists came to power: as early as May 1933 he had to leave the company Otto Wolff that he had co-founded, and he emigrated in 1936. He was forced to sell his art collection so as to be able to finance his escape and pay compulsory levies such as the “Reich Flight Tax”. The collection was sold in 1934/1935 at three auctions held at Kunsthaus Hugo Helbing – the crucifix came under the hammer in the first auction under lot number 94, which is described as follows in the auction catalogue: “Kruzifix, Korpus mit Krone, teilvergoldet, Lendentuch mit Email. Eingesetzte Augen, eines fehlt. – Kupfer. H. 18 cm.” [“Crucifix, corpus with crown, partially gilded, loincloth with enamel. Inset eyes, one missing. – Copper. H. 18 cm.”] According to an annotated catalogue it was sold for 350 Reichsmarks, where it went after this is not known.

Ottmar Strauss himself died in 1941 and his descendants have been searching for the artefacts for years. The Lost Art database lists more than 2,000 search entries under the name of this collector, with more than 50 items having already been restituted. The return of the bronze crucifix now means that another of these sought-after items has found its way back to its rightful owners. Lawyer Imke Gielen received the “Corpus Christi with crown" on behalf of the heiress and heir of Ottmar Strauss at the German Lost Art Foundation in Magdeburg.

The Executive Chairman of the German Lost Art Foundation Gilbert Lupfer is delighted that the Lost Art database has helped yet another work of art find its way to the descendants of Jewish citizens who were once persecuted: “Once again we see how important the Lost Art Database is in rectifying Nazi art theft, at least in individual cases. I’m very pleased that this small crucifix has been returned to the Strauss family. I would like to expressly thank the sender of the crucifix, who does not wish their name to be mentioned.”

Imke Gielen: “It is consistently astonishing to see how missing works of art from the collection can be identified. The personal initiative of the anonymous sender of the crucifix is particularly welcome in this case, and the heirs of Ottmar Strauss would at least like to take this opportunity to thank him or her for returning it. The return of this small crucifix also shows how important it is for the descendants of persecuted Jewish collectors to set up a freely accessible database such as Lost Art Database to enable private individuals in particular to carry out a check on works of art in their possession to verify their Nazi-era provenance.”

The search request on Lost Art: https://www.lostart.de/en/lost/object/corpus-christi-crown/313062

Gilbert Lupfer, Executive Chairman of the German Lost Art Foundation, and lawyer Imke Gielen at the handover of the crucifix.

German Lost Art Foundation
Press office
Humboldtstr. 12 | 39112 Magdeburg
phone +49 (0) 391 727 763 35