Provenance Research at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Tracing the Origins of our Collection Objects

Storage unit filled with boxes, folders, and cabinets

Depot im Jewish Museum Berlin; Jewish Museum Berlin, Photo: Jens Ziehe

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 2015, we therefore began to systematically investigate the origins of our holdings. 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.

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.

Research Findings

We will publish the findings of our research on this website. 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.

With the kind support of

For questions regarding the current Judaica provenance project, please contact
Michal S. Friedlander
Curator of Judaica and Applied Arts
phone: 
+49 (0)30 259 93 511
fax: 
+49 (0)30 259 93 409
or
Dr. Anna-Carolin Augustin
Provenance Research Judaica
phone: 
+49 (0)30 259 93 510
fax: 
+49 (0)30 259 93 409
For questions on provenance research for the painting and sculpture collection, please contact
Inka Bertz
Head of Collections/ Curator of Art
phone: 
+49 (0)30 259 93 414
fax: 
+49 (0)30 259 93 409