"I have made abundant use of everything Berlin offered me in terms of science and art." The case of Walter Neuling (1894–1973)

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
Project duration:

Starting point

During the period of funding from the Bureau for Provenance Research (June 2011 to May 2014), a number of books in Potsdam Museums collection were identified as looted property and registered in the Lost Art Database. In the first half of 2013, during an investigation of the museums files, a 116-page list was also unexpectedly found in which some of these looted books were referred to by name.

The list was part of a criminal case from 1961 concerning the hidden art collection of Walter Neuling, who fled the GDR in 1956. Even then, an expert committee (comprising Potsdam museologists and prehistorians) was aware that part of Neulings collection consisted of looted property from the Nazi era. It was possible to identify objects such as stone axes and bronzes as stolen from the SU [Soviet Union]. A series of other bronzes are marked Bohemia collection and Prague collection, say the expert reports from that time. The absconder Neuling probably acquired the aforementioned bronzes while he was working in Prague. In 1961, only the early historic items found were examined with regard to their origin. Provenance research, especially for the remaining pieces in the Potsdam Museum, was not previously initiated.


Of the 4,300 entries relating to books, bundles of items and objects recorded electronically up to August 2016, only 531 (plus three pieces already restituted) could be identified within two years following the analysis of the 1961 acquisition lists, inventories, finding aids, historical photos, historical files and correspondence.

This represents about one eighth of the amount that was desirable. It should be borne in mind here that the identification process had to be carried out in the entire holdings of Potsdam Museum in which almost no objects were marked as Neuling provenance. In other words, it had to be done consistently and thoroughly by visually inspecting and examining the individual pieces.

The only exception was 67 (unsuspicious) badges/plaques, eight schnapps glasses and two sculptures: (1) the relief Orpheus, Eurydice and Hermes (Lost Art ID 529968), and (2) the figure Venus or Nymph After Bathing (Lost Art ID 529967), which appeared with the added note [from] Salzwedel in the object documentation.

All the other objects could not be dealt with using the customary finding aids, but had to be checked against the 1961 acquisition lists by means of systematically working through whole shelves from the first to the last object and with the help of six historical black and white photographs.

Besides Neulings life and career pathcompletely unknown until thenan analysis of his private correspondence from before and after 1945 revealed several contacts and sources from which he received cultural goods between 1933 and 1945. It may appear that he was blithely enriching himself with expropriated Jewish property, e.g. based on the statements of Bruno Dorfmann (see Fig. 1), but apart from such general statements which make the whole Neuling collection suspicious, no evidence to prove a clear case of expropriation was found for any specific object within the two funded project years.

It was also not possible, on the basis of the available files, to ascertain how the committee came to the conclusion in 1961 that some items had been stolen from the SU. Details of Neulings Bohemia collection and Prague collection mentioned in the committee reports were also no longer available.

As regards the Neuling collection objects still in Potsdam Museum, the extensive deletions in the books seem suspicious at least: parts have been erased or cut outincluding from rare books or from the middle of otherwise completely intact bodies of booksand entire title pages have sometimes been removed.

By contrast, four books from the Veitel Heine Ephraimsche Lehranstalt are undamaged. Three of them have already been given to Potsdam University Library and a fourth volume is also due to be handed over. The library now holds the core collection of Berlins former bet ha-midrash and these four books together with the others, if not able to be restituted, therefore at least provide a historical context once again.

(c) Potsdam Museum - Forum für Kunst und Geschichte