Recommendation regarding Rosenberg
In a letter dated 29 October 2008, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Minister’) requested the Restitutions Committee (hereafter referred to as: ‘the Committee’) to issue a recommendation regarding the application submitted by J.L., of California, United States of America (hereafter referred to as: ‘the applicant’), on 17 December 2007 for the restitution of a commode in regency style. The claimed piece of furniture was returned to the Netherlands after the Second World War and is currently part of the National Art Collection under inventory number NK 256. The commode is currently on loan to the Dutch embassy in Brussels.
The reason for the application for restitution is a letter from the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as: ‘the BHG’) to the applicant dated 11 May 2007, in which the BHG informed the applicant of the possibility that NK 256 had once belonged to the applicant’s grandfather.
Following the Minister’s request for a recommendation, the Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report dated 7 December 2009. The draft investigatory report was sent to the applicant for comment in a letter dated 18 December 2009 and to the Minister with a request for more factual information on 24 December 2009. After repeated deferral, the applicant provided no substantive comment on the draft investigatory report. The State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science (hereafter referred to as ‘the State Secretary) informed the Committee on 15 March 2010 that she did not have any additional factual material that she would like to bring to the Committee’s attention. The investigatory report was subsequently adopted on 3 May 2010. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to this report. The applicant was represented in this procedure by M. Stötzel, a lawyer in Marburg (Germany).
The applicant requests restitution of a commode in regency style (NK 256), which is believed to have belonged to the applicant’s grandfather, Saemy Rosenberg, and to have been confiscated by the occupying forces during the war. The applicant has declared that he is the grandson and sole heir of Saemy Rosenberg. In this context, the Committee has taken cognisance of a number of legal inheritance documents sent by the applicant, which have given the Committee no reason to question the applicant’s status.
Saemy Rosenberg (hereafter referred to as: ‘Rosenberg’) was born in Berlin on 27 July 1892. Together with his brothers Raphael and Siegfried Rosenberg and his cousins Eric and Hans Stiebel, he was employed by his uncle Isaak Rosenbaum in the latter’s art dealership in Frankfurt am Main. With his brothers and cousins, Rosenberg would later continue this art dealership. Rosenberg moved to Amsterdam in April 1933, where he joined the board of management of ‘N.V. Internationale Antiquiteitenhandel’. From 1938, the company was wholly owned by the four cousins from the Rosenberg and Stiebel families, who renamed it ‘I. Rosenbaum N.V.’ (hereafter referred to as: ‘Kunsthandel Rosenbaum’). When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Rosenberg was in England, where he would stay and not return to the Netherlands. This means that when the Germans invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, Rosenberg was abroad, as were many of his family members who had already fled before 1940. In November 1940, Saemy left England for the United States, travelling via Mexico and Cuba.
In its provenance investigation, the BHG concludes that the currently claimed commode (NK 256) ‘tijdens de oorlog door Dienststelle Mühlmann in beslag is genomen’ [was confiscated by Dienststelle Mühlmann during the war], naming ‘Rosenberg’ as its possible owner. Rosenberg’s alleged ownership of NK 256 becomes apparent after studying the sources informing this conclusion, based on a post-war statement by Mühlmann in relation to the commode’s recuperation. After the war, the allied recuperation authorities transferred the commode from Austria to Munich, in relation to which Mühlmann stated at the time that the commode in question came from: ‘Rosenberg’, ‘Holland’. In October 1948, the commode was returned to the Netherlands.
After the liberation, Rosenberg contacted the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (hereafter referred to as: ‘the SNK’) in an attempt to recover the items lost during the war, both from his private estate and from Kunsthandel Rosenbaum’s trading stock. Rosenberg finally managed to secure the restitution of three commodes through the mediation of the SNK, two from his private estate and one that Mühlmann had confiscated from Kunsthandel Rosenbaum in 1942. In correspondence with the SNK, the last-mentioned commode was described as: ‘Louis XV-commode’(..), for which the Dienststelle Mühlmann paid NLG 6,500. Rosenberg viewed this commode himself at the time and identified it as former property of Kunsthandel Rosenbaum.
With regard to the identification of the currently claimed commode (NK 256) as an item that had been the property of Rosenberg, the Committee finds that the post-war statement by Mühlmann referred to in consideration 3 is the only evidence suggesting that NK 256 was part of Rosenberg’s possessions. The Committee’s investigation did not reveal any other sources on the basis of which NK 256 could be identified as former property of Rosenberg.
The following is known with regard to Rosenberg’s personal effects during the occupation. In 1949, Ms E.C.M. Peters, who was de facto director of Kunsthandel Rosenbaum during the war, wrote to the SNK that Rosenberg’s entire estate, which was stored at the Firma de Gruyter firm, had to be handed over to the German looting organisation Sammelverwaltung feindlicher Hausgeräte in early 1941. On the instructions of this Sammelverwaltung, Rosenberg’s estate was then auctioned at the Marle & Bignell auction house in The Hague on 18 June 1941 and the following days. At this auction, Kunsthandel Rosenbaum, under the direction of Peters, bought a number of items from Rosenberg’s private estate in an attempt to secure them. With regard to the commode confiscated from Kunsthandel Rosenbaum, referred to in consideration 4, it is known that in the course of 1941, the Dienststelle Mühlmann conducted an investigation into the property of this art dealership, after which, in March 1942, the Dienststelle confiscated a number of items, including, as evidenced by the investigation, a commode described as ‘Kommode van Cressent, Hfl. 6.500,-’ [commode by Cressent, NLG 6,500]. The Committee’s investigation produced no evidence that the Dienststelle Mühlmann had any commodes from either Rosenberg or Rosenbaum in its possession other than the ‘Louis XV-commode’ referred to in consideration 4 above.
From the above factual account, the Committee concludes that during the war, Mühlmann had only one Rosenbaum commode in its possession and that Rosenberg, identifying this commode as former property of Kunsthandel Rosenbaum, bought it back after the war. The Committee looked more closely into the question of how Mühlmann’s statement regarding NK 256 tallies with the above and found that the commode repurchased by Rosenberg at the time, a photo of which from the Bundesarchiv Koblenz is in the Committee’s investigation file, bears a great resemblance to NK 256 in terms of style. The investigation also revealed that the commode repurchased by Rosenberg was damaged and that the marble plate was missing, which, remarkably, was also the case with NK 256 (at the time of its recuperation). In archival research into the commode repurchased by Rosenberg, the Committee found the entry ‘Fischhorn’, which suggests that, like NK 256, this piece of furniture ended up at the Austrian castle Schloss Fischhorn after it had been confiscated by the Dienststelle Mühlmann.
According to the Ekkart Committee’s eighth recommendation of April 2001 concerning private art property, the title to art objects has to be proved with a high degree of probability, and there can be no indications to the contrary in order for a claim to be awarded.
It appears from the above that the sole indication that NK 256 had been Rosenberg’s property was found in Mühlmann’s post-war statement as referred to in consideration 3 that the currently claimed commode was part of the ‘Rosenberg’ estate. As no first name or initials were mentioned, it is unclear exactly which Rosenberg is meant. It appears from a source in the archive of the Council for the Restoration of Rights that there were at least 29 different Rosenbergs registered as ‘gedepossedeerde’ [dispossessed]. At the same time, it was established that the Dienststelle confiscated a commode from Kunsthandel Rosenbaum in 1942 that bears a resemblance to NK 256. With regard to this commode, however, it has been established that Rosenberg viewed it after the war and identified it as former property of Kunsthandel Rosenbaum, and was subsequently able to regain possession of it through the mediation of SNK. Based on this information, the Committee deems it likely that the commode repurchased by Rosenberg and the currently claimed commode (NK 256) were so similar that the two commodes were mistaken for one another during the recuperation from Schloss Fischhorn and that Mühlmann’s statement related to the commode repurchased by Rosenberg instead of NK 256. Accordingly, the Committee finds that there is insufficient proof that the commode (NK 256) was the property of Rosenberg, either privately or in his capacity as art dealer.
The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to reject the application for the restitution of the commode in regency style (NK 256).
Adopted at the meeting of 3 May 2010 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, P.J.N. van Os, D.H.M. Peeperkorn, H.M. Verrijn Stuart, I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chairman) and signed by the chair and the secretary.
(W.J.M. Davids, chair) (E. Campfens, secretary)
 On 24 February 2010, the State Secretary for OCW took over the restitution file from the Minister.