Dr Franz Oppenheimer

Recommendation regarding Dr Franz Oppenheimer

Recommendation number: 
RC 1.164
Type: 
State collection
Publishing date: 
14 October 2019
Period loss of possession: 
1933-1940
Private owner/art dealer: 
Private individual
Location of loss: 
Outside of The Netherlands

In a letter dated 25 May 2016, as supplemented on 11 October 2018, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (hereinafter referred to as the Minister) asked the Restitutions Committee (hereinafter referred to as the Committee) for advice about the application for the restitution of items of Meissen porcelain from the Dutch National Art Collection. The original restitution application was submitted to the Minister in a letter of 25 June 2015 by XX (hereinafter referred to as the Applicant) in his capacity as executor of the estate of Dr Franz Oppenheimer. The Applicant is represented by Lothar Fremy, Rechtsanwalt of Berlin, Germany. In this case the Minister is having herself represented by the Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency.

The Procedure

The Committee conducted an investigation into the facts in response to the Minister's request for advice. The results are recorded in an overview of the facts dated 8 April 2019. The Applicant responded to it in a letter dated 17 June 2019. The Minister responded in emails of 1 July and 18 July 2019. The Applicant responded to them in a letter of 21 August 2019. When asked, the Applicant and the Minister let it be known that they had no need for a hearing.
In this case Dr J.F. Cohen assisted the Committee as an advisor.

The Claimed Objects

As an enclosure to his letter to the Minister of 29 February 2016 the Applicant sent an Excel spreadsheet he had prepared (hereinafter also referred to as the claims schedule) listing 109 object groups, that is to say artworks consisting of several separate items. The Minister asked the Committee for advice about the application for the restitution of these object groups. In a letter of 11 October 2018 the Minister supplemented her request for advice with one object. These object groups are described in the appendix to the overview of the facts.
           In an email of 1 July 2019 the Minister stated that two object groups in the claims schedule cannot be linked to an object in the Dutch National Art Collection. These are the object groups in the appendix to the overview of the facts under D 1 and D 2. The Committee may only advise the Minister in regard to objects in the Dutch National Art Collection and therefore in this case its advice does not relate to the aforementioned object groups D 1 and D 2. The object group in the claims schedule and listed in the appendix as D 3 is the same object group as listed in the appendix as A-87.
          The remaining 107 Meissen porcelain object groups are listed in the appendix to this advice. All 107 object groups are part of the Dutch National Art Collection. Of these, 90 object groups are on loan to the Rijksmuseum. The other seventeen object groups are part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereinafter also referred to as the NK collection) and are on loan to the Kunstmuseum Den Haag (thirteen object groups) and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (four object groups).  

Assessment Framework

Pursuant to article 2, paragraph 1, of the Decree Establishing the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War, as amended, there is a Committee that is tasked with advising the Minister at the Minister's request about decisions to be taken regarding applications for the restitution of items of cultural value whose original owner involuntarily lost possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime and which are:
a. part of the NK collection or
b. among the other holdings of the Dutch State.
            Pursuant to paragraph 4, the Committee advises about applications as referred to in paragraph 1, under a, submitted to the Minister before 30 June 2015 with due regard for government policy in this respect.
            Pursuant to paragraph 5, the Committee advises with regard to applications as referred to in paragraph 1, under b, on the basis of the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness.
            Pursuant to paragraph 6, when discharging its advisory task as referred to in the first paragraph, the Committee will give great weight to the circumstances of the acquisition by the owner and the possibility that there was knowledge about the suspect provenance at the time of the acquisition of the item of cultural value concerned.            

On the grounds of this assessment framework the Committee will advise about the restitution application that was submitted to the Minister before 30 June 2015 giving due regard to government policy in this respect in so far as it relates to the seventeen object groups from the NK collection. The Committee will advise on the basis of the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness with regard to the part of the restitution application that concerns the other 90 object groups.  

Considerations 

1.    The Committee established the relevant facts on the grounds of the overview of the facts of 8 April 2019 and the responses to it that the Committee received. The following summary is sufficient here.

Dr Franz Oppenheimer 
2.    Franz Oppenheimer was born in Hamburg on 1 August 1871. On 27 March 1902 he married Margarethe Knapp, who was born in Vienna on 8 August 1878. The couple had two children, Marie Luise and Franz Karl, and lived in Berlin. Oppenheimer was a partner in the firm Emanuel Friedlaender et Comp. He also held various non-executive directorships and other posts in the coal industry.

Art collection
3.    The Oppenheimers built up an important collection of eighteenth-century Meissen porcelain, with a particular focus on chinoiserie. In 1927 Professor Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, curator of the Berliner Schlossmuseum, compiled a private catalogue of the Oppenheimers' collection. When Schnorr von Carolsfeld documented the collection it contained 240 object groups, that is to say artworks consisting of several separate items. The objects in Schnorr von Carolsfeld's 1927 inventory were given inventory numbers beginning with the letter ‘O’ followed by a number in the series between 1 and 239. The objects themselves were marked in black ink with the serial number without the letter.

4.    In 2000 the ceramics expert Abraham den Blaauwen (1923-2015) published his book Meissen Porcelain in the Rijksmuseum. He wrote the following about the Oppenheimer Collection.
‘The Oppenheimer collection had been catalogued in 1927 by Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, the director of the Schlossmuseum. The narrative part was printed as a private edition, the two volumes of illustrations as albums with photographs stuck in them. The numbers in this catalogue are marked on the pieces in black paint, the pieces acquired after 1927 are numbered in red
. 
In his publication Den Blaauwen gave the Oppenheimer number and its colour by each object.

5.    After 1927 the couple continued to acquire art and added at least 126 object groups to the collection. The object groups that were purchased after the 1927 inventory were given an inventory number beginning with the letters ‘Os’ followed by numbers in the series between 212 and 332. The objects themselves were marked in red ink with the serial number without the letters.

Flight from Germany
6. Franz Oppenheimer and his wife decided in around December 1936 to flee Germany as a result of the pressure exerted by Nazi persecution because of their Jewish descent. Before they were able to leave they were compelled to pay a substantial sum in Reichsfluchtsteuer (Reich Capital Flight Tax). This measure applied to everyone who wanted to emigrate, but in practice if affected primarily Jews. The lawyer Hans Rehmke wrote the following in a letter dated 16 May 1938 to the SS Oberabschnitt Vienna.
' Dr. Franz Oppenheimer, früher Berlin, ist in Dezember 1936 aus dem Altreich ausgewandert und zwar sind alle im Zusammenhange mit einer Auswanderung vorzunehmenden Formalitäten, wie Zahlung der Reichsfluchtsteuer usw., von ihm ordnungsgemäss erledigt worden.'

7.    Oppenheimer took some of his possessions, including part of his porcelain collection, with him to Austria. On the same day, the aforementioned Rehmke notified the Zentralstelle für Denkmalschutz that, in connection with his escape from Germany, Oppenheimer also had goods shipped from Germany that were not taken to Austria.
'Dr. Oppenheimer hat im Jahre 1937 vorübergehend in Wien eine Wohnung begründet, wo er einen Teil seiner Porzellansammlung und kostbaren Möbel untergebracht hat, während der andere Teil ebenfalls aus Deutschland ausgeführt, aber
[nicht] nach Oesterreich verbracht ist. Die in Oesterreich verbliebenen Sachen sind wegen des für Oesterreich bestehende Ausfuhrverbotes an Kunstgegenständen seinerzeit bei der Zentralstelle für Denkmalschutz angemeldet und auch sonst sind alle für eine freie Wiederausfuhr der fraglichen Objekte aus Oesterreich notwendigen Formalitäten seinerzeit von Dr. Oppenheimer erfüllt worden. Die Sachen sind seinerzeit nicht unter den österr. Denkmalschutz gebracht. Diese Stelle ist vielmehr mit der Angelegenheit nur deswegen befasst worden, um dem Dr. Oppenheimer die Wiederausfuhr ohne besondere Genehmigung zu ermöglichen.'

It can be deduced from the letter that Oppenheimer put some of his porcelain collection in his residence in Austria and that re-export was taken into account as part of the formalities. Another part of his collection was supposedly exported from Germany, but not transported to Austria.

8.    Oppenheimer had a part of his collection sealed and stored at the Austrian customs. The file on Franz Oppenheimer in the Bundesdenkmalamt (Austrian Federal Monuments Office) contains various lists concerning objects possessed by Oppenheimer. One of these lists in entitled as follows.
Eingeführt durch Dr. Franz Oppenheimer und seine Ehefrau, geb. Knapp im April 1937 und im September 1937 aus dem Zollverschluss entnommen.

The items on this list (hereinafter also referred to as the customs list) include five oil paintings, six lots of silver, 10 tapestries, some furniture and a limited quantity of porcelain, including 34 figurines.

III. Porzellan:

1). 2 Aschenbecher / Blattform / gold.Chinesen
2). 2 Zuckerdosen                        “          “
3.) 2 Becher                                             “          “

4.) 1 kleine Bouillon mit Untersatz          “          “

5.) Chocoladetasse mit Untertasse “       “

6.) Koppchen mit Untertasse       “          “

7.) 4 kleine Vasen / Drachenmuster / gez. K.H.C.

8.) 2 kleine Flacons / desgleichen /

9.) ein Chinese mit Affen

10.) 1 sitzende Pagode

11.) 34 Räucherchinesen verschiedener Grösse, d.s. sämtliche Exemplare der Sammlung

12). Kasten Enthaltend:

1 Kleine Teekanne, 1 Wassernapf, 6 henkellose Tassen mit Unterschalen, bunte Chinoiserien, Goldfonds, dazu diverse Servicestücke aus Vermeil.

13.) Kasten enthaltend:

1 Kaffeekanne, 1 Teekanne, 1 Teedose, 1 Zuckerdose, 1 Wassernapf, 6 henkellose Tassen mit Unterschalen, bunte Chinoiserien, Wappen der Dogen Morosini von Venedig.

9.    Oppenheimer registered those of his possessions that were in Austria with the Zentralstelle für Denkmalschutz. Apparently Oppenheimer made various photographs available to this body for that purpose because on 18 October 1937 Oppenheimer asked Dr Seiberl of the Zentralstelle für Denkmalschutz to return the photographs of his porcelain that he had been lent. ‘Es kommt nämlich Mitte dieser Woche ein Freund zu mir, dem ich diese Bilder gerne zeigen möchte’.

Flight from Austria
10.   German troops entered Austria on 12 March 1938 and Adolf Hitler proclaimed the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria into Germany the following day. Just before this, on 11 March 1938, Oppenheimer left his residence in Vienna, which was seized shortly thereafter by the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service). The Oppenheimers were able to escape to the United States via Budapest and Stockholm. They were once again obliged to pay substantial sums in Reich Capital Flight Tax. Their possessions in Austria, including the artworks that were still present, were then confiscated.
       The Austrian Nazi authorities did not know, however, exactly what happened to a part of the Oppenheimer Collection after their departure from Vienna. On 3 June 1939 it was reported that objects from the Oppenheimers' collection were missing from their residence.
'Eine Liste dieser fehlende Objekte ist in der Anlage beigeschlossen. Vor allem konnte nicht ein einziger von den 34 Räucherchinesen zustande gebracht werden und auch von den vier Originalkasten mit kostbarstem Porzellanservicen sind nur zwei vorhanden....'

The following was stated about the missing objects on 3 June 1939.
'...es nicht ausgeschlossen erscheint, dass diese der Geheimen Staatspolizei übergegeben wurden. Unwahrscheinlich ist es, dass einzelne Objekte schon vor der Machtergreifung durch Oppenheimer selbst entfernt wurden, da Oppenheimer sich vor dem Umbruch nur auf wenige Tage ins Ausland begeben und nur kleine Handgepäck mitgenommen hatte. Oppenheimer ist seither nicht mehr nach Wien gekommen.'

11.   On 10 June 1939 an employee of the Zentralstelle für Denkmalschutz wrote in a letter to the Kulturamt der Gaustadt Vienna that some of the artworks among Oppenheimer's possessions had disappeared without trace and that people were in the dark with regard to the artworks that Oppenheimer had deposited with the customs.
'Im Zuge der Sicherungen von Kunstwerken aus jüdischem Besitz wurde von der Zentralstelle f.Dsch. ermittelt, dass die Sammlung des Emigranten Dr. Franz Oppenheimer, Wien, III., Reisnerstrasse 48, sich nicht mehr an Ort und Stelle befindet. Die Sammlung wurde ... unter denkmalbehördlichen Kontrolle (Frühjahr 1937) aus Berlin eingeführt. Sammlung Oppenheimer ist eine der bedeutendsten Sammlungen von Meisner-Porzellan der Welt. In der Wohnung befand sich dann nur ein Teil der Sammlung, die übrigen Bestände wurden in einem Lagerhaus unter Zollverschluss deponiert. Die letztgenannten Gegenstände konnten bisher nicht ermittelt werden. ... Die in der Kreisleitung III vorgefundenen Gegenstände sind ein Bruchteil der Sammlung Oppenheimer wie sie hier amtlich bekannt ist, es fehlen vor allen folgenden Gegenstände: Siehe beiliegende Liste!‘

12.   Under ‘Assessment of the Claim’ the Committee will address the question of whether the currently claimed objects belonged to Oppenheimer's art collection and, if so, when and in which circumstances he lost possession of them. It is clear that at some point the currently claimed objects became part of Fritz Mannheimer's art collection. The point at which the collection changed hands and the way in which the objects ended up in the possession of the Dutch State is are addressed in the following considerations.

Fritz Mannheimer
13.   Fritz Mannheimer (1890-1939) was a German-born banker who settled in Amsterdam in 1918. Starting in 1920, Mannheimer ran his own firm, an Amsterdam branch of the prestigious bank Mendelssohn & Co of Berlin. The limited partnership was legally separated from the Berlin company.
Over time Mannheimer built up a huge art collection in his home in Hobbemastraat in Amsterdam. It was described as ‘de grootste en kostbaarste particuliere verzameling in Nederland’ [‘the biggest and most valuable private collection in the Netherlands’]. This collection was inventoried in a catalogue prepared by Otto von Falke and dated November 1935 – March 1936. Mannheimer opposed the Nazis from the Netherlands and provided aid to Jews who had fled Germany. Thanks to his many business contacts, Mannheimer was able to play an important role in facilitating the escape of Jews and their assets from Nazi Germany.

14.   After the eruption of anti-Jewish violence on Reichskristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) on 9 November 1938, Mendelssohn & Co in Berlin was closed down by the Nazis. The German firm was forced to withdraw from the Amsterdam business. The last major financial operation that Mannheimer was involved in during 1939 included refinancing part of the French national debt. The series of issues failed, due in part to increasing international tensions. Mannheimer was obliged to buy back the unplaced French bonds at his own expense, as a result of which in the summer of 1939 Mendelssohn soon encountered a severe liquidity crisis.
      On Tuesday 8 August 1939 Mannheimer left for France. Upon his arrival in Vaucresson he went for a short walk in the garden, after which he had a heart attack and died a few hours later.

15.   Mendelssohn & Co stopped its operations immediately after Mannheimer's death. After an inventory it emerged that Mendelssohn's debts were huge - over 42 million guilders. Mannheimer's estate was jointly and severally liable for the financial commitments that the limited partnership had entered into during his lifetime. On 28 August 1939 the court in Amsterdam ordered the liquidation of Dr Fritz Mannheimer's estate and appointed E.J. Korthals Altes (1898-1981) as administrator. In the end the implementation of the liquidation would take nearly a quarter of a century.
       Korthals Altes immediately had experts from the Rijksmuseum inventory and value the art collection in Mannheimer's residence. It emerged that a part of the goods had become the property of the British company Artistic and General Securities Ltd. in 1934. The inventory and valuation of the collection was completed in around March 1940. According to Korthals Altes, the result of the valuation was that objects with a value of approximately five million guilders proved to belong to Artistic, and in addition objects worth a further one and a half million guilders were present that Mannheimer has to have acquired after 1934.

16.   German art buyers showed interest in the Mannheimer Collection shortly after the German invasion on 10 May 1940. Mendelssohn & Co asked Korthals Altes to take part in a discussion with Kajetan Mühlmann, a member of the SS who had been made responsible by Reichs Commissioner Arthur Seyss Inquart for acquiring art on behalf of the Third Reich. Korthals Altes agreed to the sale of the art collection but had a passage incorporated in the contract stating that the transaction was involuntary, to which Mühlmann had no objections. Korthals Altes received confirmation from Mühlmann ‘dat hier geen sprake was van een vrijwilligen verkoop, waarvan weigering hun vrijstond, maar van een maatregel der bezettingsautoriteiten, waarbij zij zich hadden neer te leggen op gevaar van verbeurdverklaring zonder eenige schadeloosstelling’ [‘that it was not a voluntary sale, which they were entitled to refuse, but a measure by the occupying authorities to which they had to submit or run the risk of confiscation without any compensation’].

17.   After the liberation, the artworks from the Mannheimer Collection that had been taken to Germany were found in Germany and brought back to the Netherlands. After the recovery of the objects, the administrators of the insolvent estate were faced with the question of whether they would request restoration of rights in regard to the sale to Mühlmann. In the end they did not because if the art collection was restituted, the State would claim the purchase price received from the Germans.

Assessment of the Claim

18.   The Applicant submitted a Testamentsvolstreckerzeugnis of 6 July 2015, issued by the Amtsgericht Berlin, in which it is stated that he was appointed Testamentsvollstrecker (executor) with regard to Dr Franz Oppenheimer's estate. On the grounds of this document the Committee has no reason to doubt the authority of the Applicant to represent Oppenheimer's estate.

Ownership
19.   The Committee will first of all address the question of whether it is highly likely that the 107 currently claimed object groups had belonged to Oppenheimer. This question can be answered in the affirmative because in the inventory of his art collection compiled by Rijksmuseum staff after Mannheimer's death, the objects that had come from the Oppenheimer Collection were identified and marked as such in it. All 107 currently claimed object groups were listed in this inventory. Some of them were marked with an ‘O’, a reference to a listing in the 1927 private catalogue of the Oppenheimers' collection compiled by Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Another part of the 107 object groups were marked with ‘Os’, a reference to inclusion of these items in the Oppenheimer Collection after 1927. In the Committee's opinion, on the grounds of these listings and the other available provenance information, it is highly likely that the 107 currently claimed object groups were Oppenheimer's property before they became part of the Mannheimer Collection.

Loss of possession
20.   In assessing the nature of the loss of possession, it can be assumed that the 107 currently claimed object groups had belonged to Oppenheimer. When Mannheimer died in 1939, however, they had meanwhile become part of the Mannheimer Collection. It is safe to assume that the objects had not yet become part of Mannheimer's art collection at the beginning of 1936 because they do not appear in the catalogue of that collection prepared by Von Falke dated November 1935 – March 1936. Nothing has emerged about another owner between Oppenheimer's ownership and Mannheimer's ownership.
       The question, therefore, is when and in which circumstances ownership of the objects was transferred from Oppenheimer to Mannheimer. According to Den Blaauwen, Mannheimer purchased the Oppenheimer Collection en bloc. There is documentation available that describes the fate of the art collection, as stated in considerations 6 to 11. On the grounds of this documentation it is not possible, however, to identify everything in the currently claimed object groups with sufficient certainty. Bearing in mind this shortcoming, or as expressed in the Washington Principles, ‘unavoidable gaps or ambiguities in the provenance in light of the passage of time and the circumstances of the Holocaust era’, in the Committee's opinion there are two reasonable scenarios. Oppenheimer sold the currently claimed objects to Mannheimer in the period between completion of the inventory of the Mannheimer Collection compiled by Von Falke in early 1936 and his escape to Austria in December 1936 (first scenario), or Oppenheimer did not sell the objects to Mannheimer until after he had arrived in Austria (second scenario). Since there is no decisive evidence available to support one of these two scenarios, the Committee will assess both of them.

21.   If the first scenario is assumed to be correct, on the grounds of the third recommendation of the 2001 Ekkart Committee, this sale has to be considered as a forced sale, unless there is express evidence to the contrary. The Committee concludes that there is no such express evidence.
       Similarly, if the second scenario is assumed to be correct, in the Committee's opinion Oppenheimer's loss of possession has to be considered involuntary as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. After all, Oppenheimer fled to Austria in December 1936 because of the Nazis, and he had to pay a large sum in Reich Capital Flight Tax. Like many other Jews, Oppenheimer and his wife fled again just before the annexation of Austria into Germany in March 1938. The possible sale by Oppenheimer of his art collection to Mannheimer during the intervening period cannot be considered in isolation from the threat to them from the Nazi regime.
      Bearing in mind what is known about Mannheimer, it is possible that he acquired Oppenheimer's art collection in order to support him financially. However, this possible motive does not make Oppenheimer's loss of possession any less involuntary. Conversely, the involuntary nature of the sale by Oppenheimer does not detract from Mannheimer's motives to help his fellow man.

The seventeen object groups that are part of the NK collection
22.   It follows from the above that it is highly likely that Oppenheimer was the owner of the 107 currently claimed object groups and that he lost possession of these objects involuntarily due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. As regards the seventeen object groups that are part of the NK collection, the Committee is obliged to advise restitution on the grounds of government policy in this respect.

The 90 object groups that belong to the other holdings of the Dutch State
23.   As regards the other 90 object groups, which belong to the Dutch National Art Collection but not to the NK collection, the Committee is obliged to advise on the basis of the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness. The Committee confirms that the Dutch State acquired ownership of these 90 object groups in the same way as ownership of the seventeen object groups that are part of the NK collection, namely through recovery. It is not clear why these 90 object groups were not incorporated in the NK collection. According to the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness, however, the fact that these object groups belong or do not belong to the NK collection should not be decisive. What is decisive, though, is the fact that after the end of the Second World War these 90 object groups were also among the recovered items that were returned to the Netherlands and were taken into the custody of the Dutch State with the express instruction to restitute them, if possible, to the rightful claimants or their heirs. Given that the application for restitution of these 90 object groups was submitted to the Minister before 30 June 2015, and that this application would be eligible for granting if the objects formally belonged to the NK collection, based on the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness there is no reason to come to a different conclusion. This conclusion also applies if it has to be assumed that the case is about art objects that are important to the Dutch State and to the museums in which the objects concerned are to be found. The Committee will therefore advise the Minister to restitute these other 90 object groups too.

24.  Finally, the Committee raises the question of whether a payment obligation should be specified in regard to restitution of the 107 object groups in connection with a consideration received when the objects were sold. In view of what is known about the dire circumstances in which Oppenheimer and his family lived, and their flight from Nazi Germany and later on from Nazi Austria, it is highly unlikely that Oppenheimer had free control of the proceeds of the sale. On the grounds of this there is no reason to link a payment obligation to the restitution of the objects.

Conclusion

The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister of Education, Culture and Science to restitute 107 object groups as listed in the appendix to this advice to the heirs of Dr Franz Oppenheimer.

Adopted on 14 October 2019 by A. Hammerstein (Chair), S.G. Cohen-Willner, J.H.W. Koster, J.H. van Kreveld, D. Oostinga, E.H. Swaab (Vice-Chair) and C.C. Wesselink, and signed by the Chair and the Secretary.

(A. Hammerstein, Chair)                                (E.J.A. Idema, Secretary)

 

Appendix to this recommendation (PDF-file)