“The periphery at the centre”: the German Lost Art Foundation dedicates its autumn conference to provenance research on what has been forgotten, suppressed and neglected

Provenance research is often an issue when it comes to the restitution of valuable works of art. But at its autumn conference, the German Lost Art Foundation will look at the work of provenance researchers that goes beyond prominent cases: the two-day digital conference on 14 and 15 November 2022, entitled Die Peripherie im Zentrum. Vergessenes, Verdrängtes und Vernachlässigtes in der Provenienzforschung (“The periphery at the centre. What is forgotten, suppressed and neglected in provenance research”) deliberately focuses on seemingly insignificant places, everyday objects and unknown names.

Claudia Roth, Minister of State for Culture and the Media: “This year’s autumn conference held by the German Lost Art Foundation reveals the enormous extent of the Nazi theft of cultural property, which extended into the furthest corners of the German Reich. We owe this knowledge first and foremost to provenance researchers who painstakingly uncover the often forgotten biographies behind looted objects. The outcomes of their research frequently pave the way for restitution to the rightful owners or their heirs, thereby making a significant contribution to the appraisal of this historical injustice.”

Last year, for example, the Jewish Museum of Westphalia in Dorsten, North Rhine-Westphalia, was able to return a prayer book to a 90-year-old lady in the UK: it had originally belonged to her Jewish grandfather, who was murdered in a concentration camp. The research carried out by the privately sponsored museum into its inventory of Judaica and books was funded by the German Lost Art Foundation. Most of the other 20 or so speakers at the conference will also talk about the findings of research projects funded by the Foundation. They show what Franconian Gestapo files reveal about how the population gained enormous financial benefit from the belongings of deported Jewish citizens, or how custodians installed by the Nazi regime from 1936 onwards influenced the ideological orientation of local history museums. Last but not least, however, they also focus on those individuals who were persecuted and deprived under National Socialism for ideological and political motives, because of their sexual orientation or because they were Sinti or Roma.

“The sheer range of these topics also demonstrates the dimensions of the theft of cultural property perpetrated by the National Socialists,” says Gilbert Lupfer, Executive Chairman of the German Lost Art Foundation. Provenance research has become enormously differentiated over the past 20 years, having now also found its way into small institutions outside the big cities, says Lupfer: “The German Lost Art Foundation promotes this welcome development, for example by funding more than 20 First Check projects to track down cultural property expropriated as a result of Nazi persecution in small institutions, too. After all, an object that seems inconspicuous at first glance may be of enormous significance to the descendants of a persecuted Jewish citizen.”

Jewish life in the periphery was the topic of a panel discussion held the day before the conference (13 November) in Halberstadt. In cooperation with the Moses Mendelssohn Akademie Halberstadt and the MDR, the Foundation organised a panel discussion under the title Erneuerung aus der Erinnerung? Jüdisches Leben zwischen Tradition, Verfolgung und Neubeginn (“Renewal from remembrance? Jewish life between tradition, persecution and a new beginning”). Jutta Dick (Board of Directors of Moses Mendelssohn Akademie Foundation Halberstadt), Julia Hirsch (descendant of the Hirsch family from Halberstadt), Prof. Alfred Jacoby (architect of the new synagogue in Dessau and Honorary Chair of the Jewish Community in Offenbach am Main), State Rabbi Alexander Nachama (Jewish Community of Thuringia) and Dr. Dr. h.c. Hermann Simon (Founding Director of the New Synagogue Foundation Berlin – Centrum Judaicum) discussed the question of how the reconstruction of Jewish history can contribute to the revival of Jewish life in Germany. The moderator was MDR-Kultur editor Stefan Nölke. The discussion was recorded by MDR and will be broadcast at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, 15 November on MDR Kultur – Das Radio. It will then be available for access for one year in the ARD audio library.

Programme and sign-up: the conference programme is available on the event platform www.peripherie-im-zentrum.de. It is also possible to sign up here. In the press section you will find a selection of press images. These can be ordered from the Foundation’s press office by contacting presse@kulturgutverluste.de .

Publication: To coincide with the conference, the latest issue of our periodical Provenienz & Forschung (2022) entitled Peripherien was published by Sandstein Verlag in November. It is available as a print edition at a price of EUR 10.00 or digitally and free of charge in open access at www.perspectivia.net at https://doi.org/10.25360/01-2021-00036.

Foundation: The German Lost Art Foundation in Magdeburg, founded in 2015 by the Federal Government, the German federal states and the leading municipal associations, is the central point of contact in Germany for questions concerning unlawfully seized cultural property. The Foundation receives institutional funding from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media; this is also the source of funding for its projects. The Foundation’s main focus is on cultural property seized under National Socialism as a result of persecution, especially Jewish property. In addition to research into the provenance of works of art, funding is also provided for research projects that focus on such items as books, archival materials and technical collections. On the subject of Nazi-confiscated cultural property, the Foundation finances projects conducted by public and private institutions as well as by private individuals. The Foundation’s fields of activity also include Cultural Goods and Collections from Colonial Contexts and items relocated as a result of war, as well as cultural property confiscations that took place in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR.

For further information on funding opportunities, see: https://www.kulturgutverluste.de/