Angelika Enderlein, Monika Flacke, Hanns Christian
Database on the Sonderauftrag
The German Historical Museum (DHM), in cooperation with the Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues (BADV), places this image database on the Sonderauftrag Linz (Special Commission: Linz) on the Internet as completely as is currently possible.
It shows paintings, sculptures, furniture, porcelain, works on paper and tapestries that Adolf Hitler and his agents purchased or appropriated from confiscated property between the end of the 1930s and 1945, primarily for a museum planned for Linz, but also for other collections..
The inventory covered here comprises nearly 6700 works, some of which are groupings of multiple items. This numerically small, but nonetheless important collection is illustrative of a subsegment of the National Socialist policy towards art. Placing the Linz collection online also provides a component for the research into National Socialism. Since summer 2009 another Internet-based component is the publishing of some 125.000 digital scans of file cards listing the Munich Central Collection Point’s (CCP) inventory, along with the respective photographs from the BADV. With both databases, the Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), BADV, and the DHM make sources available that are to help provenance researchers to comprehend the complex of National Socialist policy on art. It is hoped that the databases’ publication will serve to move forward enquires regarding still-unresolved cases of looted art, all the more because December 2008 marks the tenth anniversary of the “Washington Principals”, which form the foundation for current provenance research and restitution claims.
The history of the Linz collection
Initial consideration of constructing a gallery had taken place before 1939, for the collection’s cornerstone was formed by purchases made by Adolf Hitler prior to this date. He especially favoured 19th century German and Austrian painting. To realize his ambitious plans for the art museum, he established the “Sonderauftrag Linz” (Special Commission: Linz), on June 21, 1939, shortly before the beginning of the war. On the same day, Hitler appointed Dr. Hans Posse, director of the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, as special envoy for the planned “Führermuseum” in Linz. 1. The Sonderauftrag’s thus had its administrative centre in Dresden. With Posse’s appointment came a change in the collection’s focus. In contrast to Adolf Hitler, the professional and renowned art historian placed the emphasis on early German, Dutch, French, and Italian painting. Map1 Map 2
After Posse’s death in 1943 and an interim period during which Robert Oertel and Gottfried Reimer had administered the Sonderauftrag, Hermann Voss took over the collection’s development. He concentrated on the areas of French and Italian painting. The Sonderauftrag representatives collected hundreds of works of art, either purchasing them on the international art market or taking them from collections confiscated from Jews. By 1945, approximately 1600 works from such seizures had been added to the Sonderauftrag.
The artworks registered in the “Dresden catalogue” were stored for the most part in the “Führerbau” (Hitler’s office building) in Munich. They were in the hands of the National Socialist Party Chancellery, which meant under the direct control of Hitler and his special commissioners. This inventory was beyond the grasp of Reich Minister Alfred Rosenberg’s Einsatzstab (special task force), Hermann Göring and others.
With the museum’s construction planned for after the war, so-called Führer albums were produced to inform Hitler about the collections’ status and about the exhibition’s possible future layout. These albums, updated as the inventory grew, contain reproductions of a selection of the significant artworks. Nineteen of the original thirty-two albums are currently on permanent loan to the German Historical Museum by the BADV. Eleven albums are missing. It was possible, however, to reconstruct most of their contents. 2. Whether the works shown in the albums would actually have become part of a later permanent exhibition is not documented. Nonetheless, the albums still allow today’s viewer a good impression of the size and quality of the collections. Another album containing seventy-four photographs of paintings from Hitler’s private collection is presently in Washington, D.C.3.
At the end of the war, the victorious Allied Powers dissolved the collection. They strove to clarify the circumstances surrounding the looting of art by the National Socialists in the East and the West and to restitute the works to their countries of origin. The legal basis for this was the 1943 Declaration of London, which proclaimed that all German art purchases in the occupied counties were invalid. Most of the artworks were brought from the salt mine at Altaussee and other repositories to the Central Collecting Point (CCP) in Munich. There, all objects were registered and many articles were also rephotographed. The Allied Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives officers, however, often also made use of photographic material dating from before 1945. Thus, many of the photographs found in this database were made by the Sonderauftrag Linz. (The original photographs are recognisable by their white borders.)
As early as the fall of 1945, works of art inventoried at the CCP were being returned to the victims of confiscations and forced sales.4. This was carried out in accordance with the conventions of the internal and external restitution within the framework of compensation trials by the western military governments. The artworks, however, were in many cases not automatically returned to their original owners by the countries of restitution, if the works were not deemed to have been stolen under the laws in effect at the time of their return.
In September 1949 the Americans handed responsibility for this inventory’s restitution over to the German authorities. The administration was initially assigned to the Bavarian prime minister and soon thereafter to the chancellor of the German Federal Republic. In February 1952 the Trustee Administration for Cultural Objects at the Foreign Ministry (TVK) took over the remaining inventory of the former Collecting Point in Munich and restituted further works of art.
TVK was disbanded ten years later. The objects remaining at this point were transferred to the Federal Treasury minister in 1963. This inventory has since then been administered by an agency subordinate to the Federal Ministry of Finance, initially the Regional Finance Office (OFD) in Munich and currently the Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues.
At the end of 1964, the Federal Treasury minister established an expert commission that determined the museum-worthiness of the artworks. On the basis of these assessments, a large portion of the paintings, graphics, sculptures, books, and coins ended up in German museums as permanent, no-cost loans. Another part of this art portfolio is on loan to federal ministries and their subordinate agencies. Literature on the matter repeatedly equates the works from the Sonderauftrag Linz with the objects in the possession of the federal government, although the Sonderauftrag objects make up only part of its portfolio.
Public institutions from forty-four countries, including the Federal Republic of Germany, agreed in the 1998 “Washington Principles” to inspect their art inventories. A renewed, systematic examination began of the works acquired or which had changed ownership between 1933 and 1945. This also pertained to works from the Sonderauftrag Linz. In the course of this commitment, the governments of Germany, France, Austria, and Holland, to name just a few, disclosed which artworks from the former Sonderauftrag collection — in addition to other objects e.g., from CCP’s — were still in their possession. Extracts from these lists are presented on various Internet portals. Germany’s Coordination Office for Lost Cultural Assets data base (www.lostart.de) offers an overview of the available sites.
Provenance research on objects located in public institutions that had been acquired between 1933 and 1945 began in May 2000, following a 1999 joint declaration on the tracing and return of confiscated art by Germany’s federal government and its federal states and national associations of local authorities.
The research on those objects currently in federal government possession, which also encompass numerous works from the former Linz collection, is the responsibility of the Federal Office BADV. Works of art shown by renewed research to involve a persecution-related deprivation of property during the National Socialist period are to be returned. This also applies where no claim to the asset has been made by the rightful owner, or, as the case may be, by the person’s heirs. In such cases the BADV endeavours to find the legal successors. A selection of current outcomes is presented in the BADV data base.
The Dark Methods of Art Acquisition
The Linz collection’s historical noteworthiness in regard to other art collections lies in the methods used to acquire its artworks. Hitler had ordered massive confiscation of artworks in Germany and other countries and supervised these measures. He left the administration of the confiscated goods to several persons and their institutions, following the principal of “divide and conquer”. These were Reich Minister Alfred Rosenberg; Reich Minister for Science, Education, and Culture in Berlin Bernhard Rust; the Governor General for Poland, Hans Frank; and the chief of the SS paramilitary, Heinrich Himmler. Alfred Rosenberg controlled the extensive confiscations from the western and eastern occupied territories.
The numerous Austrian confiscations of Jewish property were administered by the Vienna Institute for the Preservation of Monuments, which was subordinate to the Reich Minister for Science, Education, and Culture in Berlin. 5 The institute was also under the technical supervision of the Sonderauftrag’s director. Frank had control of the confiscations from Poland and Himmler of the works looted by the SS. Himmler and Frank were able to take decisions on their confiscations independent of the Sonderauftrag. Rosenberg also defended his domain successfully against the interests of Hermann Voss and the Party Chancellery until 1944.6.
There is no doubt that the National Socialists engaged in extensive looting of art on the orders of Adolf Hitler. This fact, though, does not suffice to conclude that all stolen works were intended for his museum plans. According to the current research, it can be verified that the Sonderauftrag Linz collection contained 1596 confiscated works from Germany, Austria, France, the Czech Republic, and, in some very few cases, Poland and Russia in 1945. The objects from Germany were generally from confiscations carried out by the Gestapo (state secret police) and regional finance offices; 63 artworks were from France. 1475 works were definitely selected by Hans Posse from the inventory of the widespread confiscations in Vienna. By contrast, it remains uncertain to what extent 65 selected works from the confiscated Polish Lanckoronksi Collection were actually intended for the Sonderauftrag.7. Of the nearly 6700 works, some 4100 were acquired through the art trade or directly from private owners. The remaining were drawn from forced sales, came from other National Socialist entities, or could until now not be traced with certainty.
All purchased works can have stemmed from confiscated property, have been sold under duress, or have been purchased legally. It is then entirely possible that paintings sold by the art trade originated from illegally seized property. The German and international art market profited between 1933 and 1945 from sales by Jews who had to flee from Germany and the occupied areas. 8 All purchased works can have stemmed from confiscated property, have been sold under duress, or have been purchased legally. It is then entirely possible that paintings sold by the art trade originated from illegally seized property. The German and international art market profited between 1933 and 1945 from sales by Jews who had to flee from Germany and the occupied areas.
The DHM image database contains nearly 6700 data records with information on the works of art collected for the Sonderauftrag Linz between 1939 and 1945. Almost all of the works acquired by the Sonderauftrag can be documented with photographs. The database thus offers for the first time a look at the works of art collected by Adolf Hitler, Hans Posse, and Hermann Voss.
The primary source for this database was the information on the individual works contained in the “Führerbau file”. The initially-handwritten file, whose beginnings are documented back to 1938, was established in the National Socialist Party building on Munich’s Königsplatz for the collection stored there. Over the years the file’s entries were expanded and refined. This Führerbau file served later as the basis for the Sonderauftrag’s so-called Dresden catalogue 9, which followed its numbering. The Dresden catalogue is now in the Bundesarchiv. The works listed in the catalogue bear a “Linz number”, which is derived from the Führerbau file numbering. The Dresden catalogue —and thus the database— lists at least four paintings that verifiably were part of Hitler’s private collection and were transferred to the Sonderauftrag. Notes on the backs of the works in question make it seem likely that at least 751 objects were the “private property of the Führer”.
The Collection’s Original Inventory
According to historical sources, the Dresden
catalogue does not list all of the Sonderauftrag Linz works. As was
previously mentioned, the catalogue11
does not list 198 works stemming from the artworks confiscated from
Jews. Hermann Voss no longer inventoried numerous
because of the war. The German administration responsible for the Linz
collection first catalogued these acquisitions in 1952, in the
An updated version of the Dresden catalogue was also produced during
period. It now included all information on the individual
that the Allied and German agencies had been able to collect after
present database was augmented by several further data records for
identified as part of the Linz collection through Dresden
records. Their purchase is documented by the “Wiedemann
list”, which the
Sonderauftrag bookkeeper in Dresden compiled between 1942 and 194512.
The Dresden catalogue and its Linz appendix as well as the Wiedemann
list are therefore the sources — and thus the most immediate
evidence — of the Linz collection. Other Sonderauftrag
inventories that may contain still more objects confiscated by the
National Socialists’ in the course of their extensive looting
in other countries are not currently known.
The Search for the Owners
Initial enquires into the rightful owners were carried out by the Allies at the Munich Central Collecting Point. They summarised their findings in the “Linz report”.”13. The TVK analysed the extensive Sonderauftrag correspondence, which the American occupation forces had microfilmed.14. Table of contents Concordance
The results — in as far as they are accessible and known — of the various research into the Sonderauftrag Linz artworks’ previous owners are contained in the current database. This database, though, can only include information that can be extracted from the Sonderauftrag records and from pertinent literature. In this regard, this database is not a substitute for provenance research. The information on the Sonderauftrag’s former owners presented in this database follows in essence that of the Dresden catalogue. In the process, records on works with an unresolved provenance, i.e. for which the prior owners are unknown or which came into the collection through illegal means (confiscation and forced sale), are specially noted. In addition, recordkeeping first began in 1938. At certain points, though, the Dresden catalogue conflicts with the results of enquiries in France and Holland.
The database follows in general the German records. It also does contain information on the numerous graphics that are listed in the Linz appendix. Many of these works are today still in the hands of the Dresden State Art Collections’ Museum of Prints and Drawings, which is responsible for their conservation..15. In addition, there were substantial confiscations of weapons, coins and books, which were intended for the museum’s special collections, but which Hitler’s representatives had not yet catalogued in Dresden.
Resources for Research
The present database is thus not the result of independent provenance research, but rather utilises solely the previously-known case histories of the individual works of art. However, it does represent an instrument with can serve to identify works that still today are not recognised as forced sales. Used in association with other documents (auction catalogues, etc.), the catalogue data can also make it possible to identify other pieces among the Sonderauftrag’s works that must be regarded as confiscations. In addition, it allows art historians to view pictures that were returned to private owners in 1945 and that have not been displayed publicly since.
What makes this database truly unique, though, is the first-time bringing together of the information on the paintings and objects from the numerous file cards copied from the originals stored in the Bundesarchiv with the photographs copied from the BADV archive in Berlin. The foundation of this database is research by the Berlin historian Hanns Christian Löhr, who had developed a database out of Bundesarchiv material while preparing his book, “The Brown House of Art”. His database contained all of the material on the Linz collection that he had been able to access, but almost no images..
The idea of bringing the data together with the copied photographs and file cards stemmed from the German Historical Museum, which through its collection has a focus on researching the National Socialist policy towards art. The Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues, which had already digitised the photographic archive, provided the relevant files. There were naturally many corrections and comparisons, for producing a database with nearly 6700 data records is not an easy task. Nonetheless, the cooperation on the part of the different institutions resulted in an important gain for research as well as for the general public with an interest in National Socialist policies on art. The publishers also hope that they have contributed to the demythification process.
A tendency exists to attribute all confiscated and looted works to the Linz collection — a practice that is often seen in journalistic publications. The Van Eyck brothers’ Ghent Altarpiece, for instance, was not part of this inventory. In spite of the image database’s size, it is subject to further additions and corrections. Missing photographs and supporting documents on the former whereabouts as well as further information can be added by sending an e-mail to email@example.com. It was also not possible to determine all of the copyright holders for contemporary images, in spite of numerous efforts. Rightful claimants are requested to contact the German Historical Museum.
The publishers thank all who helped to make the “Sonderauftrag Linz Collection” database a reality. The photographs come for the most part from the Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues. Other prints were kindly made available by Dresden’s Deutsche Fotothek and Old Masters Picture Gallery. Data processing was carried out by Jens Jarmer (DHM) and Regine Stein of the Zuse Institute in Berlin.
- Charles de Jaeger, Das Führermuseum, Sonderauftrag Linz, München 1988.
- Birgit Kirchmayr, Adolf Hitlers "Sonderauftrag Linz" und seine Bedeutung für den NS-Kunstraub in Österreich, in: Gabriele Anderl, Alexandra Caruso (hrsg.) NS-Kunstraub in Österreich und die Folgen, Innsbruck 2005, S. 26-41.
- Ernst Kubin, Sonderauftrag Linz, Die Kunstsammlung Adolf Hitlers, Aufbau, Vernichtungsplan, Rettung, Wien 1989.
- Iris Lauterbach, "Arche Noah", "Museum ohne Besucher?" -Beutekunst und Restitution im Central Art Collecting Point in München 1945-1949, in: Entehrt. Ausgeplündert. Arisiert. Entrechtung und Enteignung der Juden, hg. von der Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste Magedeburg, bearb. Von Andrea Baresel-Brand, Magdeburg 2005, S. 335-352.
- Hanns Christian Löhr, Das Braune Haus der Kunst, Hitler und der "Sonderauftrag Linz", Visionen, Verbrechen, Verluste, Berlin 2005.
- David Roxan und Ken Wanstall, The Jackdraw of Linz, The Story of Hitler’s Art Thefts, London 1976.
- Birgit Schwarz, Hitlers Museum, Die Fotoalben der Gemäldegalerie Linz, Wien 2004.
- Craig Smyth, Repatriation of Art from the Collecting Point in Munich after World War II, The Haag 1988.
The photograph is in the albums created for Hitler to make his selections from. The contents of the currently missing albums (volumes 9–19) were reconstructed using an index available in Koblenz.
Central Collecting Point, Munich
Numbering system introduced in 1938
Numbering system from the Allied Central Collecting Point in Munich
Last owner or the party transferring item to the “Sonderauftrag” Art trade and private individuals
Earlier owner as of 1939 or as of 1940 abroad, art trade, private individuals and institutions
Transfers and restitutions after 1945
Satellite repositories for works from the "Sonderauftrag Linz"
Information is not confirmed or is questionable
The text in parentheses is additions or attributions of works based on findings gleaned after 1952.
Inventory number, presumably from Kremsmünster
Inventory number from Kremsmünster
Object is recorded in the “Wiedemann list”
Object is documented by records in the Bundesarchive
On the history of the Sonderauftrag Linz see:
Hanns Christian Löhr, Das Braune Haus der Kunst, Hitler und
"Sonderauftrag Linz", Visionen, Verbrechen, Verluste, Berlin 2005.
2 On the albums’ organisation see: Birgit Schwarz, Hitlers Museum, Die Fotoalben der Gemäldegalerie Linz, Wien 2004.
3 Library of Congress, Washington D.C., USA, "Katalog der Privat-Galerie Adolf Hitlers", call-number LOT 11373 (H). http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/h?pp/PPALL:@field(NUMBER+@1(ppmsca+18496))
4 On the activities of the Collecting Point in Munich see: Craig Smyth, Repatriation of Art From the Collecting Point in Munich after World War II, The Hague 1988.
5 Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 2, 12904 Az. Wiss 7000 Ö-30 I file note Reich Ministry of Finance from January 17, 1944 and ibid. file note from March 28, 1941.
6 Jonathan Petropoulos, Kunstraub und Sammlerwahn, Berlin 1999, S. 205-209.
7 These are listed as "Artworks from the confiscated Vienna property for the Linz Art Museum" and "Painting inventory, to be taken into the provisional custodianship of the Linz Art Museum" BA B 323/117,IX,217,791 ff. See also the B 323/1210 selection list.
8 Exemplary is an examination of the Berlin art market by Angelika Enderlein, Der Berliner Kunsthandel in der Weimarer Republik und im NS-Staat, Zum Schicksal der Sammlung Graetz, (Berlin 2006).
9 Bundesarchiv Koblenz, B 323, Nr. 78-88, Dresden catalogue, 2nd version.
10 Archiv Bundesamt für zentrale Dienste Berlin, art administration, summary and objects, lists: paintins in the federal inventories, which are listed as Hitler’s private property, 2/1986.
11 Bundesarchiv, B 323, Nr. 108,VI,69,273 List of the selections from the Vienna confiscations.
12 Bundesarchiv Koblenz, B 323/1210 list of purchases for the Sonderauftrag Linz.
13 Bundesarchiv Koblenz, B 323 Nr. 191 Consolidated Interrogation Report No.4, Linz Hitler’s Museum and Library, 15.12.1945.
14 Bundesarchiv Koblenz, B 323 Nr. 101-156. Table of contents for the Linz films and concordance with the currently-used reference numbers.
15 A body of some two hundred graphic works is located in the Dresden State Art Collections’ Museum of Prints and Drawings, where it is filed under the original Sonderauftrag signatory.
16 The reservations for Linz from the Vienna confiscations are contained in: BA 323/117,IX;217,791-796.