3. The facts
In this procedure the Committee has based its considerations on the following facts.
3.1. Richard Semmel was born on 15 September 1875 in Zobten am Berge. It was part of Germany at the time and it is currently called Sobótka and is in Poland. He was a wealthy Jewish German businessman and art collector. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, he was the owner of the textiles factory Arthur Samulon in Berlin and he lived with his wife Clara Cäcilie Brück in that city in a big house, which contained the substantial art collection he had built up. The couple was childless. The Applicants contended that their grandparents in Berlin were close friends of the Semmels and that this friendship went back to the period when both families were still living in Zobten am Berge. On 27 June 2002, F.F. —the Applicants’ mother— gave evidence as a witness in the context of restoration of rights procedures in regard to Semmel’s wealth. In it she stated that as a child she had often gone with her parents to visit Semmel in his big house in Berlin.
3.2. Semmel was subjected to the consequences of the anti-Jewish climate in Germany shortly after the Nazis seized power in 1933. According to the Applicants he was immediately put under such great pressure by the Nazis that he fled the country in April 1933. Semmel wrote the following in a post-war statement about his persecution during the Nazi regime.
‘Im Anschluß hieran will ich noch sagen, daß der Inhalt der Schreiben von Peck u. Gross nur zum kleinen Teil zeigen, was ich durch den Beginn der Hitler-Zeit zu leiden hatte. Ich wurde buchstäblich Tag und Nacht mit Drohungen telefonisch und schriftlich bombardiert, unflätige Zettel kamen täglich in meine Wohnung, es war eine von der Nazipartei organisierte Hetze mit Hilfe der aufgepeitschten Angestellten. Obgleich ich immer Demokrat war, hat man behauptet, ich konspiriere mit Severing u. Braun, weil Severing mal in meinem Kontor war und u. um Beisteuerung für einen Jugendbund bat, dessen Name mir entfallen ist. Man behauptete, ich hätte nicht nur mein Haus, auch Waren vom Geschäft ins Ausland verschoben. Ich war gerade geschäftlich in St. Gallen, als die Hitler-Katastrophe hereinbrach, sofort kam ich zurück, wurde schon auf dem Bahnhof bei der Ankunft gewarnt, in meine Wohnung zu gehen, so daß ich ein Zimmer in dem Hotel in der Fasanenstr. nahm. Wie richtig diese Maßnahme war, sollte sich bald zeigen, denn im Geschäft spielten sich die Vertrauensleute der Nazis als Herren auf und es kam so weit, daß ich, wie schon gesagt, im letzten Moment nach Holland entkam’.
According to the Applicants, Semmel’s persecution during this early stage of the Nazi regime was related to his involvement with the Deutsche Demokratische Partei (German Democratic Party), but above all because he was a Jewish owner of a large textiles factory in Berlin. The intention of the Nazi authorities to control and aryanize the textiles industry would have made Semmel, who was a leading figure in this sector, an important target. The Applicants stated that Semmel had sustained losses during the economic crisis of the nineteen-thirties and his commitments included financial obligations that pre-dated the Nazi regime. Yet according to the Applicants his enterprise was sufficiently healthy to survive these difficulties were it not for the anti-Jewish economic policies of the National Socialists. The Applicants stated that the boycott of Jewish shops and businesses organized on 1 April 1933, the interference in the business by a Treuhänder der Arbeit (Trustee of Labour) appointed by the Nazi authorities, and the financial measures taken by the Deutsche Bank and the Dresdner Bank under the influence of the Nazi regime ultimately resulted in Semmel losing his company and his wealth.
Semmel moved to the Netherlands after his flight from Germany in 1933. He subsequently left the Netherlands in 1939 and finally settled in New York in 1941. It can be deduced from various sources that Semmel had to pay Reichsfluchtsteuer (Reich Flight Tax) in order to get out of Germany. The Applicants reported that Semmel also paid Judenvermögensabgabe—a tax on registered Jewish assets—to the Nazi authorities.
Semmel put part of his art collection in a sale that was held on 21 November 1933 at Frederik Muller & Cie. in Amsterdam. The painting that is now being claimed was one of the works of art in that sale. It can be deduced from documentation that was prepared in regard to a restoration of rights procedure of F.F. in Germany in the nineteen-nineties that Semmel used the proceeds from the auctioned works of art to live on, to continue to fulfil various financial commitments in Germany pre-dating the Nazi regime, and to try to retain his assets in Germany. There is no detailed information about when and how these works of art from the Semmel collection were brought to the Netherlands.
3.3. In her evidence referred to above in 3.1, F.F. stated that she emigrated to South Africa in 1937, while her mother Grete Gross-Eisenstädt (the Applicants’ grandmother) fled to Cuba in 1939, and settled in New York two years later. When in New York, Grete Gross-Eisenstädt re-established contact with Mr and Mrs Semmel, who were living there in destitute circumstances. Grete Gross-Eisenstädt was said to have looked after Semmel, who was in extremely bad health, on a daily basis after the death of his wife in 1945. According to F.F., Semmel made her mother his only heir out of gratitude for the way she had cared for him. As evidence for this there is a certificate of inheritance dated 16 September 1997 in the Committee’s file. Semmel died in New York on 2 December 1950. Grete Gross-Eisenstädt died in New York on 22 January 1958.
3.4. The collection catalogue De verzamelingen van het Centraal Museum Utrecht. 5. Schilderkunst tot 1850 by L.M. Helmus published in 1999 has an overview of the provenance of the work of art now being claimed. The information in this overview includes the following owners: Art trade, New York (1921) / The Erich Collections gallery, New York (1925) / H. Wendland collection, Lugano (1925) / P. de Boer gallery, Amsterdam (1926) / R. Semmel collection, Berlin (1926-1933). The fact that the painting was part of the Semmel collection is also reported in various other art history sources. An example is an article by the Dutch art historian G.J. Hoogewerff in the art magazine Oud-Holland in 1929. The picture is depicted with the caption ‘R. Semmel collection in Berlin’ and there is a comment that the work ‘Was purchased some time ago…by Mr R. Semmel of Berlin through the…P. de Boer gallery in Amsterdam.’ In a study by Hoogewerff dating from 1941-1942, entitled De Noord-Nederlandsche Schilderkunst, it was reported that ‘After attracting attention at the P. de Boer gallery in Amsterdam in 1927…this painting consequently became part of the collection of R. Semmel in Berlin….’ In a catalogue published by the Museum about a Van Scorel retrospective in 1955, the provenance includes ‘P. de Boer, Amsterdam, 1926; R. Semmel, Berlin’. It is stated in a 1996 letter from the Museum to a relative of the Semmels who had approached the Museum in connection with the Semmel provenance that ‘the Peter de Boer Foundation Amsterdam…told us, among other things, that this painting was sold in 1926 by the former art dealer P. de Boer to R. Semmel in Berlin.’ In 1929 the painting was on view in an exhibition of Old Master paintings in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The catalogue identified ‘P. de Boer, Amsterdam’ as the painting’s exhibitor and ‘R. Semmel, Berlin’ as the owner. The catalogue stated that the work was not for sale. In 1930 P. Wescher published an article in the art magazine Pantheon about the paintings in the Semmel collection. Among the items in the Semmel collection that were referred to was a ‘Halbfigurenmadonna von Scorel’ (without illustration). As emerges from the detailed description of the work concerned, in all probability this is the painting currently being claimed. A description of the painting Maria mit dem Kind by Jan van Scorel in a collection catalogue published by the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Berlin in 1931 refers to ‘Wiederholungen unseres Bildes’, including ‘in der Slg. Semmel, Berlin’.
The present painting was put in a sale that took place between 21 and 24 November 1933 at Frederik Muller & Cie. in Amsterdam. According to information from the RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History), two catalogues and two supplement catalogues were produced for this sale. The work is referred to in a catalogue of Old Master paintings ‘provenant de diverses collections privées’, which went under the hammer on 21 November (lot number and illustration 57). There is a reference in the painting’s entry in the catalogue to the 1929 Rijksmuseum exhibition. Below the entry ‘provenant de diverses collections privées’ there is a handwritten note ‘(including R. Semmel of Berlin)’ on the cover and the title page of a copy of the sale catalogue in the RKD. It is not known which of the individual paintings referred to in the catalogue this comment relates to. The present picture probably fetched a price of 3,100 guilders in the auction. This can be deduced from an article in the 24 December 1933 issue of the art magazine Weltkunst and from notes in the copies of the catalogue in the Amsterdam University Library and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is not known who bought the work.
The 1999 Helmus collection catalogue lists the following owners in its overview of the provenance of the present painting during the period from the sale concerned to the acquisition by the Museum: ‘Schaeffer Galleries, New York (1937-1938) / E. Schwartz collection, New York (1944-1955) / Newhouse gallery, New York (1958) / P. de Boer gallery, Amsterdam (1958)….’ In response to a request by the Committee for information, the P. de Boer gallery said that it has an inventory card about the painting on which, among other things, the following is written: ‘October 1958 on consignment Newhouse NY….’ The RKD has a postcard of the present painting with the name ‘F. Mont gallery, New York, no. 16128’ and the note ‘photograph received from the gallery 1960’. It is not known whether and when the claimed painting was present in the gallery concerned because it is not stated in the work’s provenance given in the 1999 Helmus catalogue.
The Committee did research on the back of the claimed painting but found no further provenance information.
3.5. Utrecht City Council purchased the claimed painting in 1958 with support from the Vereniging Rembrandt for 92,000 guilders from the P. de Boer gallery for the Centraal Museum. According to information from the Director of the Centraal Museum, this institution has looked after the work since then, initially as a municipal museum and since 1 January 2013 as a foundation. According to a statement by the Museum, the acquisition was financed by means of a sum from the Museum’s own budget of 22,000 guilders, an interest free advance from the Vereniging Rembrandt of 50,000 guilders and, in part exchange, the painting Portrait of a woman with her son and daughter (1635) by the artist Thomas de Keyser. This information is consistent with the communication from the P. de Boer gallery to the Committee that the notes on the 1958 inventory card of the claimed painting include ‘December 1958 Utrecht 72,000 guilders + Thomas de Keyser’.
3.6. No indications were found during the Committee’s investigation that Semmel or the people entitled to his inheritance made efforts after the war to regain possession of the work of art now being claimed or to obtain compensation for the loss of its possession. There is no reference to the present painting in the archive of the lawyer Benno J. Stokvis, the representative of Semmel and then Grete Gross-Eisenstädt in the Netherlands. This archive is in the Amsterdam City Archives. This archive does, though, contain references to a number of other works of art from the Semmel collection. These works include items that were surrendered during the occupation of the Netherlands (1940-1945) to the German ‘robber bank’ Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co., Sarphatistraat, Amsterdam, for which Semmel sought restitution of rights after the war.