Recommendation regarding Hamburger
In a letter dated 13 December 2012, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (abbreviated to OCW in Dutch) requested the Restitutions Committee (hereafter referred to as: the Committee) for advice regarding the application of 19 November 2012 by XX of Y, Switzerland (hereafter referred as: the applicant) for the restitution of three ceramic dishes from the Netherlands Art Property Collection (NK collection). These objects are:
- NK 223, Glazed pottery dish with polychromed decor of bust of a prophet and grotesques on the rim (Italy, 17th century);
- NK 444, Glazed pottery dish with polychromed decor with rosette and arabesques (Spain, 16th century);
- NK 575, Glazed pottery dish with polychromed decor of female bust (Italy, 16th century).
The applicant’s reason for the claim was a letter from the Origins Unknown Agency in 2007, informing the applicant of the existence of the objects from her father’s collection and the possibility to submit a claim. In subsequent correspondence with the Origins Unknown Agency, the applicant stated that she would appreciate the restitution of the objects in question.
In a letter to the Minister dated 19 November 2012, the applicant repeated this, requesting a speedy handling of the application. Given the applicant’s age and the delay of this case during the preliminary stage, the Committee has decided to accelerate this application and give priority to addressing this case over other applications. In response to the Minister’s request for advice of 13 December 2012, the Committee instigated a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were included in a draft investigatory report of 19 February 2013, which was sent on the same date to the applicant for comment. The applicant commented on the content of this letter in an email dated 22 February 2013. The report was adopted on 4 March 2013. This recommendation will confine itself to a summary of the facts as shown below.
In her capacity as heir, the applicant requests the restitution of three ceramic objects from the former property of her father. The applicant is the daughter of Gustaaf Hamburger (1887-1977). She has stated that she is her father’s sole heir and the Committee sees no reason to doubt her status as such.
Gustaaf Hamburger was born in Utrecht in 1887. With others he established the bank Hamburger & Co.’s Bankierskantoor N.V. in Amsterdam in 1920. Hamburger lived in Laren, collecting art and ceramics. Gustaaf Hamburger managed to escape to the United States in 1939 or 1940, leaving most of his possessions behind in the Netherlands. His house in Laren, with part of his art collection, was confiscated by the Wehrmacht during the occupation. During the occupation, other parts of his art collection, which Hamburger had put in storage, were designated by the Nazi authorities as enemy property and subsequently confiscated and sold.
Based on the investigation findings, the Committee considers it is very likely that the currently claimed objects NK 223, NK 444 and NK 575 were originally owned by Gustaaf Hamburger and were part of his collection. The Committee infers this partly from two descriptions of goods from Hamburger’s collection on a 1935 taxation list which are very similar to the current NK 223 and NK 575.
A large part of Hamburger’s art collection, probably including the currently claimed objects, was confiscated during the occupation by the Dienststelle Mühlmann, a German looting organisation. The three currently claimed objects are known to have been sold on to a German buyer by the Dienststelle Mühlmann because post-war information, compiled for the purpose of recovering the work, shows that the German buyer in question declared that they had acquired the three objects at issue through Mühlmann from the ‘Slg. Hamburger’.
The Committee concludes that it follows from the circumstances described above that loss of possession was involuntary as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi Regime.
Even before the liberation, Gustaaf Hamburger contacted the Dutch government in exile from the US, providing information about his property, including his art collection, as it was when he was forced to leave it behind in the Netherlands on 10 May 1940. The currently claimed objects were recovered by the Allies after the liberation and returned to the Netherlands. Hamburger requested the return of several objects from his collection, among which was only one of the currently claimed objects, NK 575. Hamburger was evidently not aware that the two other currently claimed objects had been recovered.
It has not become clear why the application for restitution of NK 575 did not lead to its actual return after the war. The request appears to have been denied because the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) did not believe that Hamburger identified the dish conclusively enough. In 1950, Hamburger again asked to be able to look at the object, which was permitted. No further correspondence about this dish was found, however.
The Committee believes that, particularly in light of the possibility of identifying the object on the basis of the currently available data, this post-war handling under the policy criteria does not preclude the admissibility of the applicant’s current claim. The Committee therefore considers the application admissible.
In conclusion, in connection with any consideration received, the Committee has to address the question of whether a payment obligation should be imposed in return for the restitution of the claimed objects. In accordance with current restitution policy, a payment obligation only applies if and insofar as the then seller or their heirs actually had free disposal of the proceeds. The Committee first considers in this regard that it is unknown whether or not a purchase price was paid for the objects. It can be concluded from post-war correspondence that the Dienststelle Mühlmann only paid a small proportion of the total value of the objects from Hamburger’s collection.
The Committee believes that under these circumstances imposing a payment obligation is not in order in this case.
The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to return NK 223, NK 444 and NK 575 to the applicant.
Adopted at the meeting of 4 March 2013 by W.J.M. Davids (chair), J.Th.M. Bank, Herrmann, P.J.N. van Os, E.J. van Straaten, H.M. Verrijn Stuart and I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chair), and signed by the chair and the director.
(W.J.M. Davids, chair) (E. Campfens, director)