Research activities & services

Preliminary report for the Holocaust Era Assets Conference (Prague, June 28–30, 2009)

Provenance research & restitution

 

1. The establishment of the Central Jewish Museum

2. Details and records of the collections

3. Library holdings

4. The Restitution Act

5. Terms for the assertion of restitution claims with respect to objects in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague that were unlawfully taken during the period of Nazi occupation

    5.1 INFORMATION - Which objects can you look for in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague?

6. Terms for the filing of claims for the restitution of books from the library collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague which were unlawfully seized from natural persons during the period of Nazi occupation.

7. List of items that are the subject of a restitution claim

    7.1 List of artworks by Hella Guth

8. List of books for which restitution claims have been filed

9. Artworks restituted from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague to their original owners or their legal successors

10. Books restituted from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague to their original owners or their legal successors

 


1. The establishment of the Central Jewish Museum

On 15 March 1939, at the beginning of the Nazi occupation of the rump of the former Czechoslovak Republic, the holdings of the then almost 33-year-old Jewish Museum in Prague comprised 1,101 objects (463 folk and ceremonial artefacts, 309 pictures and engravings, 339 written materials, books and archive documents). Anti-Semitic laws were introduced in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and mass deportations of the Jewish population began in late 1941 - first to the ghettos in the East, then to Terezín. The first transport left Prague on 16 October 1941. Three days earlier the Nazi authorities founded the so-called Treuhandstelle, an organization attached to the Prague Jewish Community whose task was to collect and store the property of deportees. In 1941 Jewish services were banned and books and liturgical objects from Prague synagogues were sent to the Pinkas Synagogue.
In May 1942 the Prague Jewish Community was ordered to centralize in Prague all objects of historical value belonging to provincial Jewish communities. No documents have ever been found that specifically refer to the founding of the Central Jewish Museum. However, there are documents showing that, in an attempt to save at least the most treasured articles confiscated by the Nazis, certain individuals from the Prague Jewish Community took the initiative in founding such an institution with the approval of the Nazi authorities. At the same time, the collections of the Jewish museums of Mikulov and Mladá Boleslav were incorporated into the holdings of the museum under preparation. There is evidence to show that the Central Jewish Museum was already operating by August 1942. Its hastily prepared storerooms were the destination for a selection of objects from the confiscated property of Jewish communities and individuals which, apart from a minority of the book collection, stemmed solely from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The Central Jewish Museum did not receive objects from the Sudeten border region that had been annexed back in September 1938.

 

2. Details and records of the collections

The current process of identifying books and collection items is based on the Museum’s so-called German Catalogue which consists of cards produced in the Central Jewish Museum. In total, there are 101,000 such cards on which only items confiscated by the Nazis are recorded. These cards were used primarily for filing information on folk and ceremonial artefacts, books and archive material.

Card for a book
Card for an object

In 1945 there were 213,096 registered items filed under 101,000 inventory numbers (including the collections of the pre-war museum). Archive material (about 40% of the total) comprised the archives of individual Jewish communities and small spiral scrolls - materials of various associations, papers, documents, and charters, etc. Books (about 30%) consisted primarily of traditional works (Judaica, Hebraica, Talmudic studies), specialist papers and even fiction by Jewish authors. There were also multiples copies of many titles. Besides 19th century portraits, the art collection (about 7%) contained paintings by modern Jewish artists from the first third of the 20th century. Objects documenting Jewish religious life (about 20%) were usually divided into two categories: synagogue implements and ceremonial objects for home use. The first category was the largest — approximately two thirds of all ritual objects. Of the above inventory numbers (constituting the Museum’s core collection) about 96,000 items came from institutional property; only 5,000 items were from private property. Between 1945-50, 2,396 objects were removed from the collections, being returned to individual owners and used for the liturgical purposes of the 52 restored Jewish communities.
The Museum was run by the State between April 1950 and late September 1994. During the communist regime a number of items were stolen, destroyed and illegally sold to collectors in Czechoslovakia and abroad. This led to a deterioration in the Museum’s holdings. The only legal transfer of items concerned 1,562 Torahs (308 with binders) which were sent to the Westminster Synagogue in London.
The current collections of the Museum consist of 2,476 synagogue curtains, 4,248 Torah mantles, 1,117 valances, 608 lectern covers, 70 wedding canopies, 371 tallitot, 91 tallit bags, 479 phylacteries, 205 skullcaps, 872 Sabbath and Pesach covers, 747 Torah shields, 790 pairs of finials, 168 crowns, 85 Levite lavers and basins, 212 spice boxes, 700 Hanukkah lamps, 800 objects from the property of burial societies, 154 pewter plates and dishes, 373 objects associated with kosher preparation, and about 10,000 artworks, including paintings (approx. 2,500), drawings, graphic work and sculptures. The bulk of the art collection stems from property in Prague.

 

3. Library holdings

The Jewish Museum library holdings that were established from the Nazi shipment of confiscated items between 1942-1944 comprised about 46,000 books (including sheet music). In 1945 the Jewish Museum received about 100,000 books from the library of the Terezín ghetto, which also comprised books from various private and institutional Jewish libraries from the whole of the Third Reich, e.g., from the libraries of the Rabbinic Seminary in Berlin, the Jewish Community in Vienna and the Rabbinic Seminary in Breslau. A certain portion of these books were incorporated in the library holdings, while others remained outside the holdings. The library of the Prague Jewish Community (about 15,000 books including a collection of periodicals and booklets) returned to Prague in 1946, having been previously stored in a former monastery (Zlatá Koruna). Since then it has constituted the historic holdings of the Jewish Museum library. In 1947 an unspecified amount of books that had been stored by the Nazi authorities before the end of the war in several mansions (Mimoň, Nový Falkenburg, Nový Perkštejn and Houska) was transferred to the Museum library. Many of these books (apart from the holdings from the original library of the Prague Jewish Community) were again removed from the Museum in 1945-50. These books, along with collection objects, were returned to original owners or left for the use by restored Jewish communities. In addition, a number of books were handed over to UNRRA (65,115), the Jerusalem National and University Library (40,000) and JOINT (34,900). To sum up, it can be said that over 190,000 books were shipped to the Jewish Museum during the war, and 158,000 of these were returned. The Jewish Museum library now comprises over 100,000 volumes, which include both books from Nazi shipments and direct acquisitions (purchases, donations, bequests, replacements).


4. The Restitution Act

The restitution proceedings in the Czech Republic are governed by Act No. 212 of 23 June 2000. In Article 3, Section 1 it is stipulated that:
”Artworks taken from individuals in the period between 29 September 1938 and 4 May 1945 as a result of a transfer or transfers of ownership which were declared invalid by Presidential Decree No. 5/1945 Coll. or by Act No. 128/1946 Coll. and which are under State ownership as of the day on which this Act comes into effect, shall be transferred free of charge into the ownership of the individual who owned them prior to dispossession, and if this person is deceased, they shall be transferred into the ownership of his or her spouse or, if the original owner and his or her spouse are deceased, into the ownership of his or her descendants.”
Although this Act relates solely to objects under State ownership, the Jewish Museum in Prague shall follow the spirit of the Act in similar cases. There have already been a number of valid cases prior to the introduction of this Act whereby the Museum returned private property based in its collections. Artworks, in particular, are currently subject to detailed examination, as these are most likely to have been in private hands. In Autumn 2000 the National Gallery restitued some of the most valuable artworks in its collections to the Jewish Museum in Prague. The Jewish Museum in Prague is, however, fully prepared to collaborate in all possible ways to ascertain the original ownership of all the artworks in its care. A list of other pictures of Jewish origin in Czech galleries cis publicy available on the website of the Czech Ministry of Culture at www.restitution-art.cz

5. Terms for the assertion of restitution claims with respect to objects in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague that were unlawfully taken during the period of Nazi occupation

1) Objects housed in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague (hereinafter „Museum“) that were taken from individuals in the period between 29 September 1938 and 4 May 1945 as a result of transfers of ownership which were declared invalid by Presidential Decree No. 5/1945 Coll. or by Act No. 128/1946 Coll. and which, as of 30 September 1994, with the exception of objects listed in Article 3 of these terms (hereinafter „objects“), were in the ownership of the Museum shall be transferred free of charge into the ownership of the individual who owned them prior to dispossession (hereinafter „original owner“). If this person has died or has been certified dead, the persons listed below (in order of precedence) are entitled to receive the object(s):

a) an heir who acquired the entire inheritance in accordance with a will that was submitted in the course of inheritance proceedings

b) an heir who acquired the object(s) in question in accordance with a will

c) the original owner’s child/children and spouse who shared his/her inheritance equally; in the event that a child of the original owner has died, his/her portion shall be shared equally among his/her children or, if they are not alive, by his/her grandchildren,

d) the parents of the original owner,

e) the brothers and sisters of the original owner; in the event that one of these has died, the latter’s entitlement passes on to his/her children

2) In view of the exceptional historical value of the collection of Terezín children’s drawings and of Terezín artworks by adults, it is not possible, under these terms, to assert a claim with respect to the original drawings and artworks. This term is informed by an endeavour to maintain the unique collection in its entirety and by the fact that the collection would be in danger of imminent deterioration if handled or stored inappropriately.

In addition, under these terms, no restitution claims may be made with respect to objects that the Museum or any of its legal predecessors acquired by means of purchase, donation or inheritance.

3) Under these terms, a restitution claim may also be asserted with respect to an object or objects returned to the Museum under Act No. 212/2000 Coll. or under relevant restitution regulations to be issued in the future.

4) The conveyance of an object or objects in accordance with the previous article shall be made free of charge by the Museum on the basis of a written application from the original owner or authorized person (hereinafter „request“) that is posted or delivered in person to the headquarters of the Museum at U Staré školy 3, Prague 1.

The receipt of every application shall be reported by carrying the delivery date and information regarding the object in question on the website of the Jewish Museum in Prague and, if need be, in the next newsletter of the Museum and the monthly newspaper Rosh Chodesh. A decision regarding applications from persons listed in Article (1) with respect to a single object shall be made after the expiry of one year after the receipt of the first application being reported. Applications delivered at a later date shall not be taken into consideration.

5) In order to deal with an application it is essential that the applicant should furnish credible proof showing that he was the owner of the object in question, or, alternatively, that the owner of this object was his/her spouse, ancestor, parents, brother or sister, or the testator who bequeathed the property to the applicant. If the object was originally owned by an ancestor of the applicant, the application must be supported by evidence showing the applicant’s family connection to the original owner (birth/marriage/death certificates etc.). If the applicant inherited the object from the original owner, the application must be supported by evidence showing that he/she succeeded to the property in question.

6) If the object in question was originally owned by the applicant’s spouse, the application must be supported by a wedding certificate or other evidence showing that he/she was married to the original owner at the time of the latter’s death.

7) Applications properly submitted within the time-limit stated in Article 2 shall be assessed by a committee of experts appointed by the Museum Director on the basis of a decision of the Museum Board. The results of their assessment shall be presented to the Museum Board, which shall make a decision regarding the application within the shortest possible time-frame. For technical reasons, it is not possible to make a decision regarding claims for the return of books before the retrospective examination of the Museum’s library holdings is completed, i.e., before 30 June 2004.

8) A written appeal against a decision rejecting an application may be presented within 15 days of the delivery of the decision to the Supervisory Body of the Museum for assessment regarding the correctness of the decision. The Supervisory Body shall present the Museum Board with its final assessment regarding the compliance of the Board’s decision with the Museum’s statutes, its founder’s deed, these terms and generally binding legal regulations. On the basis of this assessment, the Museum Board may revoke its original decision.

5.1 INFORMATION - Which objects can you look for in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague?

Restitution claims with respect to objects in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague may apply only to those objects that were incorporated into its collections during the existence of the Central Jewish Museum (1942 – 1945) as confiscated items from the private property of Jewish owners. This concerns only objects confiscated by the Prague Treuhandstelle from owners who were deported from Prague and the vicinity to ghettos and concentration camps from the autumn of 1941.

Restitution claims may also be made with respect to books confiscated from individual deportees in the Terezín ghetto which became part of the Terezín Zentralbücherei, provided they were transferred to the library of the Jewish Museum in Prague after the war.

Likewise, restitution claims may apply to the books of individuals living outside the Protectorate which were housed in the Terezín Zentralbücherei, provided they were incorporated in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague at a later date.

Only selected artworks, prints, drawings, books or ritual objects from the furnishings of Jewish households (e.g., havdalah candlesticks, spice boxes, Seder plates, etrog containers) could be incorporated into the collections of the Central Jewish Museum from Treuhandstelle warehouses. In general, they were objects to which no great value was attributed. Other objects from personal property (e.g., furniture, carpets, porcelain, glassware, jewellery, paintings by old masters, rare sculptures) were never included in the Museum’s collections.

Restitution claims do not apply to objects from the furnishings of pre-war synagogues or from the property of Jewish communities and associations, as this property was transferred by the State to the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic in 1994. This property was subsequently transferred by the Federation to the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Since May 2001, the Library of the Jewish Museum in Prague has been endeavouring to ascertain the original ownership of books housed in its collections.

6. Terms for the filing of claims for the restitution of books from the library collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague which were unlawfully seized from natural persons during the period of Nazi occupation.

1.) Books in the library collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague which were seized between 29 September 1938 and 4 May 1945 from natural persons in consequence of transfers or devolutions of title annulled by Decree of the President of the Republic No. 5/1945 or Act No. 128/1946, and which, with the exception of the items listed in Article 3 (hereinafter “the items”), were owned by the Jewish Museum in Prague as of 30 September 1994, shall be transferred free of charge to the natural person who owned them prior to the seizure (hereinafter “the original owner”). If this natural person has in the meantime died or has been declared to be deceased, the books in question may be returned to the following natural persons in this order:
a) an heir who acquired the entire inheritance in accordance with a will that was submitted in the course of inheritance proceedings,
b) an heir who acquired the book(s) in question in accordance with a will,
c) the original owner’s child/children and spouse who shared his/her inheritance equally; in the event that a child of the original owner has died, his/her portion shall be shared equally among his/her children or, if they are not alive, by his/her grandchildren,
d) the parents of the original owner,
e) the brothers and sisters of the original owner; in the event that one of these has died, the latter’s entitlement passes on to his/her children.
 
2.) Under these terms, no restitution claims may be made with respect to books that the Jewish Museum in Prague or any of its legal predecessors acquired by means of purchase, donation or inheritance.
 
3.) Under these terms, a restitution claim may also be put forward regarding books that are subsequently returned to the Jewish Museum in Prague under the relevant restitution regulations.
 
4.) The conveyance of books in accordance with the previous article shall be made free of charge by the Jewish Museum in Prague on the basis of a written application from the original owner or authorized person that is posted or delivered in person to the headquarters of the Jewish Museum in Prague at U Staré školy 3, Prague 1 (hereinafter “application”).
The receipt of each application shall be reported by carrying the delivery date and information regarding the books in question on the website of the Jewish Museum in Prague. A decision regarding applications from persons listed in Article (1) with respect to the original owner’s book(s) shall be made after the expiry of one year after the receipt of the first application being reported. Applications delivered at a later date shall not be taken into consideration.
 
5.) In order to deal with an application it is necessary, in the provenance research as part of a retrospective examination of the Jewish Museum in Prague’s library collection, to determine ownership of the requested book(s) during the period of Nazi occupation on the basis of an unequivocal and dated record of ownership (such as a signature, ex libris and purchase note) or to determine that the owner of the requested book(s) was his/her spouse, descendent, parent, sibling or the testator who bequeathed the book(s) to the applicant. If the book or books in question were originally owned by an ancestor of the applicant, the application must be supported by evidence showing the applicant’s family connection to the original owner (such as birth/marriage/death certificates). If the applicant inherited the book from the original owner, the application must be supported by evidence showing that he/she succeeded to the property in question
An application will not be complied with if the requested book is found to contain records of ownership for more than one person and it is not possible to determine who originally owned the book.
An application will be not complied with if the requested book is found to contain records of ownership (such as marks, signatures and stamps) pertaining to a company or legal person, in addition to a natural person’s record of ownership, or if it is clear from other documents or evidence that the book in question was owned by a company at the time it was taken or acquired by the Jewish Museum in Prague. Of the books which, in addition to a natural person’s record of ownership, also contain an inventory number of the Jewish Museum’s German Catalogue, only books where the ‘Treuhandstelle’ is given as the collection point or where it is explicitly stated in the relevant catalogue card that the original owner was a natural person may be considered for restitution.
An application may be complied with only if the restitution of the requested book is not prevented by the legislation of the Czech Republic in force at the time the application is assessed.
 
6.) If the book in question was originally owned by the applicant’s spouse, the application must be supported by a wedding certificate or other evidence showing that he/she was married to the original owner at the time of the latter’s death.
7.) Applications properly submitted within the time-limit shall be assessed by a committee of experts appointed by the Jewish Museum in Prague Director on the basis of a decision of the Administrative Board of the Jewish Museum in Prague. The results of their assessment shall be presented to the Board, which shall make a decision regarding the application within the shortest possible time-frame.
Under these terms, it is not possible to file a claim for the restitution of books owned in the past by legal persons, regardless of whether the current legal successors of such owners are natural persons or legal persons.
 
8.) A written appeal against a decision rejecting an application may be presented within 15 days of the delivery of the decision to the Supervisory Body of the Jewish Museum in Prague for assessment regarding the correctness of the decision. The Supervisory Body shall present the Administrative Board of the Jewish Museum in Prague with its final assessment regarding the compliance of the Board’s decision with the Jewish Museum in Prague’s bylaws, its founder’s deed, these terms and generally binding legal regulations. On the basis of this assessment, the Administrative Board of the Jewish Museum in Prague may revoke its original decision.
 

7. List of items that are the subject of a restitution claim



Notification by the Jewish Museum in Prague of a restitution claim

The Jewish Museum in Prague hereby gives notices that a claim has been filed for the restitution of the following item from its collections:
JMP 89.261
Antonín Fila (1796-1869)
Portrait of Man with Sealed Letter, 1841
Oil on canvas, 68.5 x 57.5 cm
Signed and dated lower left: Ant. Fila pin. / 1841
Recently restored, relining, new stretcher












In accordance with the “Terms for the assertion of restitution claims with respect to objects in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague that were unlawfully taken during the period of Nazi occupation” (hereinafter “the Terms”, for the full version see link to Terms - http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/arestit.htm#5) a one-year deadline for filing any additional claims with respect to the artwork in question shall run from the date of publication of this notice of delivery of claim. After this deadline has passed, a decision will be made with regard to the claim in accordance with the Terms. Applications delivered at a later date shall not be taken into consideration.

Provenance:

? – 8. 2. 1942
8. 2. 1942 – 7. 9. 1944
7. 9. 1944 – 8. 5. 1945
8. 5. 1945 – present
Arnošt Schiller, Prague (portrait probably passed down for generations through the family of the last known owner)
Treuhandstelle Prag (L7a, consignment: 2923 VII 167/00)
Central Jewish Museum, Prague (catalogued by Dr. Hana Volavková)
Jewish Museum in Prague


Note:
According to the transport number entered on a card in the Central Jewish Museum Catalogue (see scan attached below), Mr. Arnošt Schiller was the last owner of the painting prior to its confiscation by the Prague Treuhandstelle.

Arnošt Schiller
Date of birth: 5 July 1886
Transport W – No. 112 (08 February 1942, Prague -> Terezín)
Transport By – No. 252 (26 October 1942, Terezín -> Auschwitz)
Perished
Last place of residence before deportation: Prague XII
Address/place of registration in the Protectorate: Prague XII, Italienische Strasse 26 [Italská Street 26]
Registration in the Protectorate: Prague 38252





8. List of books for which restitution claims have been filed

 

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