Recommendation regarding Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild
In a letter dated 16 February 2009, 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 dated 14 March 2007 by the ‘Erbengemeinschaft nach Albert-Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’ (hereafter referred to as: the applicants) for the restitution of two alabaster sculptures. This concerns the set of sculptures Annunciation by the artist Tilman Riemenschneider dating from the last quarter of the 15th century. The claimed objects are, under inventory numbers NK 124 and NK 125, part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection, which is administered by the Dutch government. They are currently in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The applicants were prompted to submit a claim by the mention of the name ‘M. Goldschmidt-Rothschild’ in the provenance history of the two sculptures in question on the website of the Origins Unknown Agency (BHG).
Following the Minister’s request for a recommendation, the Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft report dated 11 April 2011. The Committee sent this draft report to the applicants for comment in a letter dated 2 May 2011, to which they replied in a letter dated 17 June 2011. In a letter dated 2 May 2011, the draft investigatory report was also sent to the Minister for additional information, who replied by email on 17 November 2011 that there was no additional information that he wanted the Committee to consider.
Given the numerous uncertainties concerning the circumstances of the loss of possession, the Committee decided that further investigation was necessary. As such, the Committee sent a letter dated 25 May 2012 to the applicants asking them further questions, to which they replied by letter dated 27 July 2012. The director of the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD), prof. dr. R.E.O. Ekkart, was also asked for his expertise, while a further investigation of German archives was conducted as well. Furthermore, numerous requests for information were sent to (research) institutions and individuals in the Netherlands and abroad. The results of this investigation were sent to the applicants. The Committee sent the revised version of the investigatory report to the Minister and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for their information in a letter dated 4 September 2012. The investigatory report was revised to include the new research findings, and the report was finalised on 6 December 2012. During the procedure with the Committee, the applicants were represented by dr. S. Rudolph from Dresden, Germany.
The applicants are requesting restitution of two alabaster sculptures that together form the Annunciation (NK 124 and NK 125). The objects were created in the last quarter of the 15th century by German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider, one of the most important German sculptors of the Late Gothic and early Renaissance period.The applicants state that they are the heirs of Albert Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (1879-1941), a son and co-heir of Maximilian Benedikt Hayum Freiherr von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (1843-1940) (the latter hereafter also referred to as: Max Goldschmidt or Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild). In this context, the Committee took cognisance of a number of inheritance documents, based on which it has no reason to doubt the status of the applicants as the rightful claimants in this case. The applicants state that Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild lost possession of these sculptures at an unknown point in time and in an unknown manner before 1938, but that it can be assumed that this loss of possession was the result of persecution measures by the Nazi regime.
The relevant facts are included in the investigatory report dated 6 December 2012. The following considerations will summarise these facts.
Max Goldschmidt was a Jewish banker and art collector. He was born in Frankfurt am Main (hereafter referred to as: Frankfurt) on 20 June 1843. Together with his brother, he ran the B.H. Goldschmidt bank set up by their father, until this bank closed its doors in 1893. In 1878, Max Goldschmidt married Minna Caroline (Minka) von Rothschild (1857-1903), a descendent of a prominent Jewish family from Frankfurt. The couple had five children, including Albert, to whose estate the applicants are entitled. After the death of his wife, Max Goldschmidt added her surname to his. In 1903, he was elevated to Prussian nobility and in 1907 he became a Prussian Freiherr. In 1920, Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild and his two sons Albert and Erich acquired the bank A. Falkenberger in Berlin, which he renamed Goldschmidt-Rothschild & Co. The bank was sold in 1932.
After the National Socialists assumed power on 30 January 1933, the Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild family increasingly had to deal with anti-Semitic measures. The documentation found during the investigation does not provide a complete picture of the persecution measures with which Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild and his children were faced, but it is clear that the family were increasingly confronted with prohibitive measures. A general picture of the family’s fate is given below.
In the late 1930s, the family had decreased access to its assets and was obliged to pay excessive taxes, including RM 942,500 for so-called Judenvermögensabgabe. According to a post-war statement by the family’s solicitor, Albert von Goldschmidt-Rothschild sold his stately home Grüneburg and neighbouring park in 1935 to Frankfurt city council within the context of the flight that he had already started planning shortly after 30 January 1933. In September 1938, Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild also sold his house, the Goldschmidt-Rothschild-Palais at Bockenheimer Landstraβe 10, to Frankfurt city council. Two months later, Frankfurt city council, headed by NSDAP mayor Friedrich Krebs, used the Reichskristallnacht as a means of appropriating Jewish art property under the pretext of providing protection (Sicherheitsstellung). After this, Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild was forced to sell his valuable art collection of approximately 1,394 objects to Frankfurt city council on 11 November 1938. Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’s two sons, Rudolf and Albert, fled Germany in 1938 and 1939, respectively, for which a sum of hundreds of thousands Reichsmarks had to be paid from the family capital as flight tax (Reichsfluchtsteuer).
A very old Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild remained in Frankfurt, where he rented part of his former house from the city. He died there on 15 March 1940, aged 96.
After the war, the heirs of Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild submitted an application for restitution to Frankfurt city council regarding the art collection sold by Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild in 1938. The negotiations led to the restitution of these works of art in 1948, insofar as they were still in the city of Frankfurt. The family also instigated a number of other restoration of rights procedures for, among others, the property sold and the flight tax paid.
In the investigation, no documentation was found that suggests that the heirs of Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild applied to the Dutch or German authorities for restitution of or compensation for the currently claimed sculptures NK 124 and NK 125 after the war.
Pursuant to current national policy, restitution can be made if the title to the claimed objects is highly likely and the original owner thereof lost possession involuntarily as a result of circumstances that were directly related to the Nazi regime. Therefore, in assessing the application for restitution, the first and foremost question that should be addressed is whether the claimed sculptures were owned by Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild in the relevant period.
The research first of all showed that the currently claimed sculptures were not part of Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’s art collection that was sold in 1938 in Frankfurt under the pressure of Nazi measures, but that they were already owned, several years before that, by the Jewish banker and art collector Fritz Mannheimer, who resided in Amsterdam. A mention of these works in a catalogue of the Fritz Mannheimer art collection dated November 1935 – March 1936 suggests this. Provenance data for the sculptures in question notes: ‘Aus der Sammlung Max. v. Goldschmidt-Rothschild’. Mannheimer died in 1939. After his estate was declared bankrupt, his art collection, including the claimed sculptures, was sold to the occupying forces by the bankruptcy administrator during the occupation of the Netherlands, after which the works of art were transported to Germany. Given this Dutch provenance, the sculptures were recuperated after the war from Germany to the Netherlands, where they became part of the Dutch National Art Collection.
The abovementioned information does not, however, provide any clarity as to the question until when Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild owned the currently claimed sculptures, and whether he lost possession of these during the Nazi regime in Germany (1933-1945) or before. To be able to determine this, the Committee carried out an exhaustive further investigation, which included the archive of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This investigation led to the following findings.
The sculptures of Tilman Riemenschneider, one of the most important German sculptors of the Late Gothic and early Renaissance period are frequently described in art history literature because of their unique character. During the research, publications from 1925, 1931 and 1934 were found in which reference is made to the Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild collection in relation to the provenance of the current works of art. The 1934 publication is particularly important when it comes to answering the question of whether Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild lost possession of the currently claimed sculptures during the Nazi regime in Germany or before. This publication concerns an entry by art historian and Riemenschneider expert Justus Bier, in Part 28 of the Thieme-Becker artists’ encyclopaedia, which refers to Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild as being the owner of the currently claimed sculptures. To answer the question of how up-to-date this provenance data was in 1934, the Committee sent a request for information to prof. dr. R.E.O. Ekkart, director of the RKD. In his reply, he noted that the entry in question includes references to publications that appeared in the first few months of 1934, from which it can be deduced that Bier revised the entry in the first few months of 1934. Ekkart also states that, given the constant involvement of Justus Bier in the Riemenschneider investigation, it is likely that he would have been aware of a sale that Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild would have made before 1934. Ekkart concluded ‘dat de vermelding van de naam Goldschmidt-Rothschild als eigenaar van de twee beelden van Riemenschneider in het 28ste deel van Thieme-Becker het waarschijnlijk maakt dat de beide beelden in het begin van 1934 nog tot deze collectie behoorden’.
Documentation concerning the Mannheimer collection (see also consideration 7) supports this conclusion. On 25 June 1934, Mannheimer assigned his collection as security to Artistic, a company under English law. The lack of an Artistic inventory number and evaluation information for the currently claimed works on the inventory lists of the Mannheimer collection is another indication that Mannheimer probably acquired these sculptures after the first few months of 1934. Given that the works were included in the catalogue of the Mannheimer collection dated November 1935 – March 1936 (see consideration 7), loss of possession by Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild can be dated to the period between 1934 and March 1936.
Since Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild was a Jewish private owner, the reversal of the burden of proof, as applicable under relevant policy for Jewish private owners for sales during the Nazi regime, is of paramount importance for assessment of this case. The third recommendation of the Ekkart Committee determines in this respect that any sales by Jewish private owners in the Netherlands from 10 May 1940 onwards are to be considered involuntary unless expressly proven otherwise. The same principle should be applied to sales by Jewish private owners in Germany and Austria from 1933 and 1938 onwards, respectively. Given that Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’s loss of possession seemed to have occurred at an early stage in the Nazi regime in Germany (in the period 1934 until March 1936) and practically nothing is known about how he came to lose possession, the Committee decided to investigate this point further.
During this further research, indications were found that Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild lost possession of the works of art in question because of an exchange with the Fritz Mannheimer mentioned in consideration 7. These indications are the following. A letter dated 6 July 1946 from Hans Bräutigam, Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’s private secretary and later executor of his estate, to Alfred Wolters, the director of the Städtische Galerie in Frankfurt, was found in the archive of the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. In this letter, Bräutigam writes the following about the Riemenschneider sculptures: ‘Frau Inge Strassfeld, geb. Moessner, die lange Jahre Gesellschafterin bei Hernn Baron Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild war, erinnert sich, dass die beiden Alabaster-Engel von Riemenschneider einige Zeit vor Kriegsausbruch durch Vermittlung von Hackenbroich im Tausch an den bekannten Sammler Mannheimer in Amsterdam gegangen sind’. There is no further information on Inge Strassfeld, but based on the quote, the Committee assumes that she was one of Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’s business associates.
A letter dated 13 December 1947 from the above-mentioned Alfred Wolters to the Hessisches Staatsministerium in Wiesbaden was also found in the archive of the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. In this letter, Wolters states that the Riemenschneider sculptures in question can be removed from the list of protected works of art (‘Liste der national wertvollen Kunstwerke’) because they are already abroad. By way of an explanation, Wolters mentions that there was an exchange with Mannheimer (‘Die Gruppe wurde durch Vermittlung von Hackenbroch in Ffm im Tausch an Herrn Mannheimer in Amsterdam abgegeben’).
During the investigation, the Committee found no further details with respect to the terms and conditions of the exchange between Mannheimer and Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, or with respect to the object given in return. No indication was found that this exchange was involuntary in nature. In the Committee’s view, the facts would rather suggest the contrary:
- The name Hackenbro(i)ch stated in the above-mentioned letters probably refers to the Jewish-German art dealer Zacharias Max Hackenbroch (1884-1937) from Frankfurt, who regularly did business with Von Goldschmidt- Rothschild.
- Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild and Fritz Mannheimer were both of Jewish descent and both were bankers as well as art collectors. It is known that they regularly changed and expanded their collections, and that they both were advised in this by the (Jewish) art dealership Firma I. Rosenbaum, which in turn was in contact with Hackenbroch, the broker of the current exchange.
- The transaction concerning the currently claimed sculptures is not an isolated one. Von Falke’s Mannheimer catalogue mentions seven other works of art originating from the Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild collection.
The Committee also refers to the following. If the exchange had been involuntary, it would have been obvious for Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’s private secretary and later executor, Hans Bräutigam, to have mentioned this in his letter of 6 July 1946 (see consideration 10). He did not do so, however. It would also be logical that if the exchange had been involuntary in nature, the Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild family would have submitted an application for restitution of or compensation for the sculptures after the war, as they did for the works of art that were sold in 1938 under the pressure of the Nazi authorities. As regards the currently claimed sculptures, neither the applicants nor the Committee found any indication of a post-war application for restitution or compensation (see consideration 5).
The Committee concludes that Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild lost possession of the currently claimed sculptures in the period 1934 - March 1936 as a result of an exchange with Fritz Mannheimer. In light of indications to the contrary, as already outlined above, such a loss of possession cannot be regarded as involuntary loss of possession as a result of circumstances directly related to Nazi regime.
The Restitutions Committee advises the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science to reject the application for restitution of the two sculptures Annunciation by Tilman Riemenschneider (NK 124 and NK 125).
Adopted on 6 December 2012 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, P.J.N. van Os, D.H.M. Peeperkorn, E.J. van Straaten, H.M. Verrijn Stuart, and I.C. van der Vlies (Vice-chair), and signed by the chair and the secretary.
(W.J.M. Davids, chair) (E. Campfens, secretary)