Determining the provenance of all objects received by the Städtisches Museum Potsdam (today: Potsdam Museum) between 1933 and 1945

Funding area:
Nazi-looted cultural property
Funding recipient:
Potsdam Museum - Forum für Kunst und Geschichte
Federal state:
Contact person:
Dr. Jutta Götzmann

PositionDirektorin des Potsdam-Museums

Tel.+49 (0) 331 28 96 821

Type of project:
long-term project

The city of Potsdams municipal collections (formed in 1902 with the first set of works; museum founded in 1909; today combined in the Potsdam Museum) were always considered unaffected by the events of the National Socialist period, partly because the cultural history collection was put into storage in 1934 due to a lack of suitable exhibition space and administrative activity was suspended, reportedly from that point and certainly after the outbreak of the war. The other parts of the museum (natural history collection, prehistoric collection and municipal art gallery) were also deemed closed as of 1939.

This understanding of past circumstances was called into question when a restitution claim was received from a community of heirs in Sweden in 1992 (for 94 pieces of faience earthenware, 21 ceramic items, three porcelain pieces, one serpentine object and 48 pewter items; these were eventually restituted in 2008) and when a discovery was made in 2010 of a number of books suspected of having been looted (one Talmud volume from 1715, one Jewish prayer book from 1841, one book from 1778 from the library of the Teutonia zur Weisheit Masonic lodge in Potsdam).

With support from the Bureau for Provenance Research and financial assistance from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Potsdam Museum launched a project in 2011 to shed light on the history of its collection during the Nazi era.

In the three periods of grant fundingeach with a different focusresearchers made sample inspections by thoroughly examining objects and clarified the history of acquisitions by studying the files. All available finding aids and inventories containing information relating to origin were checked. In this way, obviously problematic finds with a Jewish, Masonic, Social Democratic or Communist provenance came to light, and the increase in stock between 1933 and 1945 became clear.

Initial research findings were published in print and presented publicly at the Arbeitskreis für Provenienzforschung (Research Association for Provenance Research), at Brandenburg Association of Museums and in the local press. [For an overview of the project, see Mathias Deinert Problematische Stempel. Zur aktuellen Provenienzforschung im Potsdam-Museum in: Museumsblätter Mitteilungen des Museumsverbandes Brandenburg, issue 23/2013, pages 2429]

Possible confiscation as a result of persecution, as defined in the Washington Principles, is assumed for precisely 80 of the objects examined so far (date: December 2014). They are all to be shown in the Lost Art Database by the end of the funding period.

Since 2013 (chance discovery of the list of a highly suspect provenance), it has not been possible to rule out confiscation as a result of persecution for a further 2,485 objects. To date, however, checks have only been carried out at random or not at all, as the extensive scientific research requirements associated with these could no longer be included in the project, which is due to end.

(c) Potsdam Museum - Forum für Kunst und Geschichte