3. The facts
In this procedure, the Committee assumes the following facts:
3.1. Richard Semmel was born in Zobten am Berge, located in Germany at the time but currently Sobótka in Poland, on 15 September 1875. He was a wealthy German entrepreneur and art collector of Jewish descent. When the Nazis assumed power in Germany in 1933, he owned the textile plant Arthur Samulon in Berlin and was living in a villa in this city with his wife, Clara Cäcilie Brück, where he had amassed a sizeable art collection. The couple did not have any children. The applicants stated that, while they were living in Berlin, their grandparents were close friends of the Semmels, and that this friendship dated back to the period during which the two families were still living in Zobten am Berge. On 27 June 2002, F.F., the applicants’ mother, gave evidence in the context of restoration of rights procedures regarding Semmel’s property in which she stated that, as a child, she often visited Semmel’s villa in Berlin.
3.2. Shortly after the Nazi’s coup d’etat in 1933, Semmel experienced the consequences of the anti-Jewish climate in Germany. According to the applicants, he came under such severe pressure from the Nazis that he fled the country in April 1933. In a post-war statement about his persecution during the Nazi regime, Semmel said the following about this:
‘Im Anschluß hieran will ich noch sagen, daß der Inhalt der Schreiben von Peck u. Gross nur zum kleine 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 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 at this early stage of the Nazi regime was because of his involvement in the Deutsche Demokratische Partei, but above all because he was a Jewish owner of a large textile plant in Berlin. The Nazi authorities’ attempts to control and aryanise the textile industry would have made Semmel, a leading figure in the industry, a key target. The applicants claimed that Semmel had incurred losses as a result of the economic crisis of the 1930s and that he had financial and other obligations going back to the period before the Nazi regime. However, according to the applicants, his business was sound enough to deal with this, had there been no anti-Jewish measures by the national socialists. The applicants state that the boycott of Jewish shops and business organised on 1 April 1933, the intervention in the company by the Treuhänder der Arbeit appointed by the Nazi authorities, and the financial measures taken by Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank under the influence of the Nazi regime ultimately led to Semmel losing his company and his capital.
After fleeing Germany in 1933, Semmel settled in the Netherlands. In 1939, he left the Netherlands again, to eventually settle in New York in 1941. Various sources suggest that Semmel had to pay Reichsfluchtsteuer when fleeing Germany. The applicants have stated that Semmel also paid the Nazi authorities Judenvermögensabgabe.
Semmel put up part of his art collection for auction by the firm Frederik Muller & Cie. in Amsterdam on 21 November 1933. One of the works of art put up for auction is the currently claimed painting. Documentation drawn up as part of a restoration of rights procedure by F.F. in Germany in the 1990s suggests that Semmel used the proceeds of the sales of these works of art to pay his costs of living, to continue to meet various financial obligations in Germany dating from before the Nazi regime, and in attempts to retain his capital in Germany. There is no further information on the time at which and way in which the works of art from the Semmel collection came to the Netherlands.
3.3. In her statement referred to above under 3.1, F.F. said 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. In New York, Grete Gross-Eisenstädt renewed acquaintances with the Semmels, who were living there in destitute circumstances. Grete Gross-Eisenstädt is said to have cared for Semmel, who was in very poor health, on a daily basis after his wife’s death in 1945. F.F. stated that her mother was named sole heir as thanks for looking after him. The Committee’s file contains a certificate of inheritance dated 16 September 1997 as proof of this. Semmel died in New York on 2 December 1950. Grete Gross-Eisenstädt died in New York on 22 January 1958.
3.4. The painting in question has long been considered a work by painter Jan van Goyen, but in 1972 art historian Hans-Ulrich Beck, who specialises in Van Goyen’s work, attributed it to the painter Maerten Fransz. van der Hulst. Publications by Beck and other sources consulted show that it was put up for auction on 5 May 1906 by auction house J. Fievez in Brussels. In July and August 1925, the work of art was part of the exhibition ‘Gemälde alter Meister aus Berliner Besitz’ in the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. In the accompanying exhibition catalogue, ‘R. S.’ is given as ‘Besitzer’ of the work of art. Photo cards of the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) and other art historical sources suggest that ‘R. S.’ is Richard Semmel of Berlin. In 1930, P. Wescher published an article on the paintings from the Semmel collection in the art magazine Pantheon. A passage about ‘holländischen Landschaften’ from this collection includes a reference to a ‘Goyen’, possibly the painting in question.
The painting was put up for auction on 21-24 November 1933 by the firm Frederik Muller & Cie. in Amsterdam. According to information from the RKD, the firm drafted two catalogues and two supplement catalogues for this auction. The work of art in question is mentioned in a catalogue of old paintings ‘provenant de diverses collections privées’ that were auctioned off on 21 November 1933 (lot number and illustration 16). No provenance name is given for the painting, only a reference to the above-mentioned 1925 Berlin exhibition. The cover and title page of a copy of this catalogue from the RKD has the following hand-written annotation below ‘provenant de diverses collections privées’: ‘(including R. Semmel from Berlin)’. It is not known to which of the individual paintings mentioned in this catalogue the annotation refers. Notes in copies of the auction catalogue of Frederik Muller & Cie. at the Rijksmuseum and the Amsterdam University Library suggest that the currently claimed painting was probably sold at auction for NLG 1,100. It is not known who the buyer of the art work was. An investigation by the Committee of the back of the currently claimed painting has not yielded any further provenance data.
3.5. The Museum acquired the painting at hand in 1948 through a bequest from Geziena Wilhelmina Slingenberg (1879-1948). She was the widow of former psychiatry and neurology professor Klaas Herman Bouman (1874-1947). A Museum report for the 1944-1948 period shows that the bequest comprised a large number of artworks, from which the Museum made a selection. The bequest was acquired ‘encumbered with inheritance tax and on condition that the provenance is given as “Bouman-Slingenberg Bequest”’. It is not known when and from whom the Bouman-Slingenbergs obtained the currently claimed painting. When asked, the Museum stated that they did not have an archive for the couple and that the Museum’s archive does not contain any explanation as to the conditions of the bequest.
3.6. An investigation by the Committee did not yield any evidence that Semmel or the parties entitled to his inheritance tried to regain possession of the currently claimed painting after the war, or to obtain compensation for the loss of possession. The current painting is not mentioned in the archive of lawyer Benno J. Stokvis, who successively represented Semmel and Grete Gross-Eisenstädt in the Netherlands, which can be found in the Amsterdam City Archives. This archive does, however, refer to various other works of art from the Semmel collection, including objects that had been surrendered to the German looting organisation Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co. of Sarphatistraat in Amsterdam during the occupation of the Netherlands (1940-1945) and for which Semmel sought restoration of rights after the war.