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Provenance Research at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Tracing the Origins of our Collection Objects

The plunder and destruction of Jewish cultural artifacts, and other cultural objects owned by Jews, was an integral part of the National Socialist government policy to obliterate Jewish life and culture.
From 1933 to 1945, art and cultural property were stolen or confiscated from Jewish owners, in an unprecedented manner, and were often destroyed. After the Second World War, the Allies discovered many stolen objects and restituted them to their former owners, yet countless art objects and cultural artifacts remained missing, ownerless, or still in the possession of those who had claimed them illegally.

A Systematic Investigation of our Holdings

Even after 1945, stolen objects made their way into the collections of many museums worldwide by way of acquisitions and gifts. The collection of the Jewish Museum Berlin is no exception. In the past, we have therefore conducted targeted investigations into specific groups of holdings in our collection. In 2023, we established a dedicated position for provenance research and are broadening our investigation to the remaining collection. We are attempting to identify stolen objects by reconstructing their history, as far as possible, during the period from 1933 to 1945, and through researching previous ownership.

Provenance Research in the Painting and Sculpture Collections

Provenance research at the Jewish Museum Berlin began in April 2015 with an investigation of the painting and sculpture collections. One of the outcomes of this two-year project was the determination of the provenance of an oil study study Das Gastmahl der Familie Mosse (The Mosse Family Banquet, 1899) by the artist Anton von Werner. In December 2016, the work was restituted to the heirs of the legitimate owner. Further research findings are being published online in our German object database.

German Lost Art Foundation

Here, you can find further information on provenance research in Germany, the Washington Principles, and the joint declaration of the German government, states, and municipal associations for provenance research in public institutions.
Foundation website

Anton von Werner’s oil study Das Gastmahl der Familie Mosse (The Mosse Family Banquet); Photo: Jewish Museum Berlin, Jens Ziehe

Provenance Research in the Judaica Collection

A further two-year project began in May 2017, investigating the provenance of Jewish ceremonial objects, such as Torah ornaments, Hanukkah lamps, and ritual textiles. One particular focus is the Judaica collection assembled by Zvi Sofer , a cantor and scholar of Jewish folklore who was active in post-war Münster. The object group was acquired in 1981 for the Jewish Department of the Berlin Museum and is now in the holdings of the Jewish Museum Berlin.

Many thanks are due to the relatives of Zvi Sofer, who granted access to his private estate and supported the project from the very beginning.

Lost Art Internet Database

The foundation also administers a database for the registration of cultural objects that were relocated, moved or seized as a result of the National Socialist policy of persecution.
Lost Art Internet Database website

Research Findings

We will publish the findings of our research on this website – for already published results, please refer to the link boxes at the bottom of this page.

Should we discover stolen objects in our collections, we will make every effort to identify potential heirs and to reach a just and fair solution with them.

Contribution in Museumsjournal

Augustin, Anna-Carolin: "Von Tora-Schmuck, Chanukka-Leuchtern und rituellen Textilien. Auf der Spur verschlungener Judaica-Biografien", in: Museumsjournal Berlin & Potsdam 1 (2019), S. 26–27 (to the magazine on the publisher's homepage).

Download (PDF / 0.05 MB / in German / not accessible)

Contribution in Provenienz & Forschung

Friedlander, Michal/Augustin, Anna-Carolin: "Provenienzforschung zu Judaica am Jüdischen Museum Berlin", in: Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste (Hg.): Provenienz & Forschung 2 (2018), S. 13–19 (to the magazine on the publisher's homepage).

Download (PDF / 0.13 MB / in German / not accessible)

With the kind support of

For general questions about provenance research, please contact:

Elisabeth Weber
Provenance research
T +49 (0)30 259 93 491

For questions regarding the Judaica provenance project, please contact:

Michal S. Friedlander
Curator of Judaica and Applied Arts
T +49 (0)30 259 93 511

For questions on provenance research for the painting and sculpture collection, please contact:

Inka Bertz
Curator of Art
T +49 (0)30 259 93 414

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