Explanations of terms from the field of provenance research and Proveana's four research contexts.

An overview page with all terms is also available.


GDR mark

The national currency of the GDR was officially known as the "Deutsche Mark" (DM) from 1948 to 1964, the "Mark der Deutschen Notenbank" (MDN) from 1964 to 1968 and the "Mark der DDR" (M) until 1990. (MD)

  • Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR

Genocide in "German South West Africa" / Namibia

When →"German South West Africa" was established as a colony, the native population of South West Africa was gradually expropriated, disenfranchised and subjected to violence in their everyday lives. This was met with revolts from the Bondelswarts, a Nama-speaking ethnic group in the south of the colony, as early as 1903. The chief of the Herero people, Samuel Maharero, ultimately called for violent resistance to ongoing colonization. On 12 January 1904, a war of resistance against the German colonial power broke out in central Namibia. Hendrik Witbooi, the chief of another Nama-speaking tribe, joined the battle in October 1905. Following the decisive “Battle of Ohamakari” (or “Battle of Waterberg”) on 11 / 12 August 1904, the commander of the German colonial troops, Lothar von Trotha, ordered the ruthless persecution and expulsion of the Herero soldiers and civilians who were fleeing eastward through the Kalahari Desert. This was expressed as an “extermination order” issued against the Herero people (dated 3 October 1904) and subsequently against the Nama people (dated 22 April 1905). Although the proclamation directed against the Herero people was withdrawn six weeks later, many of those fleeing had already died of thirst and starvation by then. Meanwhile, the conflict in the south of the country had developed into a guerrilla war that raged for several years.
From 1905, prisoners and survivors of war and genocide were sent to concentration camps, where thousands died from hunger, disease, malnutrition and exhaustion as a result of forced labor. The assessment of the German war policy as genocide is based on the two proclamations and their consequences, on a letter written by Lothar von Trotha to the German general staff shortly after the first proclamation, revealing the genocidal intentions of his campaign, and on the policy of “murder through deliberate neglect” in concentration camps (Jürgen Zimmerer), which is estimated to have resulted in the death of 50 to 80% of the Herero- and Nama-speaking population of "German South West Africa". Although the Germans declared the end of the war in March 1907, the actual end point is often cited as January 1908 when the prisoner-of-war camps were officially abolished. As a result of the conflict, all warring factions were expropriated in 1906 and passports were made compulsory for the African population in 1907, imposing strict controls and forcing them into wage labor.
The war of resistance has been commemorated for several decades by Nama- and Herero-speaking Namibians, who have called for it to be recognized as genocide. Since around 2004, an increasing number of civil society groups in Germany and individual German politicians have also remembered the events of 1904-1908. While the war in "German South West Africa" is now widely regarded as genocide in historical scholarship, it is a far more heated debate in the political arena due to the potential legal implications for the former European colonial powers. Since 2015, the German and Namibian government have therefore been negotiating its recognition as genocide and possible apologies and reparations. In 2019, a "Joint Declaration" was drawn up by both states, which has not yet passed the Namibian Parliament. (LF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German Book Export and Import Ltd.

This private limited company emerged from a "nationally owned firm" (Volkseigenerbetrieb, VEB) in Leipzig called "Koehler & Volckmar". Deutscher Buch-Export und -Import GmbH (German Book Export and Import Ltd., DB) was founded on 23 October 1953 with a branch in Berlin and held the GDR foreign trade monopoly over books and all kinds of antiquarian printed matter. The following observation had been made in West Germany as early as the 1960s: "DB also supplies the regime with foreign currency by selling the valuable libraries of expropriated large landowners and 'deserters from the republic'". DB was not only responsible for the sale of books, but also dealt with certain antiques and works of art. The foreign trade company, which was renamed "Buchexport" in 1972/1973, stopped exporting antiques on 1 January 1974 following the ministerial directive to grant →Kunst und Antiquitäten GmbH (Art and Antiques Ltd., KuA) the exclusive right to export antiques and works of art. The foreign trade monopoly over antiquarian books and printed matter, on the other hand, was transferred to the →Zentralantiquariat der DDR (Central Antiquarian and Second Hand Book Dealers' Office of the GDR) in Leipzig. The relevant records for 1955-1958 can be found in the Federal Archives (BArch DR 1/1178), which also holds records for 1958-1961, 1963-1967 and 1973-1989 (BArch DR 1/1054, BArch DY 30/IV A 2/6.10/215, BArch DY 30/17670), as well as in the Main State Archives of Saxony – State Archives of Leipzig (reference code 20998). (MD)

  • Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR

German Colonial School (DKS)

On 23 May 1898, the "German Colonial School for Agriculture, Trade and Industry" (Deutsche Kolonialschule für Landwirtschaft, Handel und Gewerbe) was founded in Witzenhausen near Kassel under the patronage and presidency of Prince Wilhelm of Wied. It was set up and operated as a private limited company. The main purpose of the colonial schools was to train civil servants, cultivators, farmers, gardeners and cattle breeders for work in the colonies.
In addition to agricultural and technical subjects, the students were also taught ethnology, cultural history and foreign languages. The topics covered during the lessons were reinforced with an "educational collection", whereby those who graduated from the Colonial School were asked to send appropriate objects to their alma mater from overseas. Most of the items are still cared for at the Ethnological Museum (Völkerkundliches Museum) in Witzenhausen. After two or three years of training, the graduates could obtain a diploma; most of them later lived overseas in what was then South West Africa, East Africa and Cameroon. From 1908 to 1911, the "Colonial Women’s School" (Kolonialfrauenschule) was run at the same location. The Colonial School was closed between 1914 and 1919 due to the First World War; it was then closed for good in 1944. The institution was succeeded by the "German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture" (DITSL), which opened in 1957 and continues to focus on development cooperation to this day. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German Colonial Society

The German Colonial Society (Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft) was formed in Berlin on 19 December 1887 through the merger of the German Colonial Association (Deutscher Kolonialverein) and the Society for German Colonization (Gesellschaft für Deutsche Kolonialisation). The society advocated colonial expansion and became an influential political actor with around 43,000 members in 1914. In addition to the expansion and preservation of German colonial possessions, it also endorsed the economic exploitation and scientific research of the colonies. After the First World War, the society campaigned for the German colonies to be regained. In 1936, the society was dissolved and became part of the Reich Colonial League (Reichskolonialbund). (JH)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German East Africa

In terms of surface area, "German East Africa" was the →German Empire’s largest and most populous colony in Africa. Here, too, colonial rule was established in several phases. In 1884, Carl Peters concluded contracts with local rulers on behalf of the Society for German Colonization (Gesellschaft für Deutsche Kolonialisation) and, in 1885, he even obtained a royal →"charter of protection" for the territories acquired by the society. Armed with this reassurance, Peters expanded the society’s territorial claims. This resulted in a conflict with the Sultan of Zanzibar, who was ultimately coerced into recognizing the society’s territorial claims following the dispatch of a naval squadron. In 1888, the coastal population resisted against the country’s occupation by the →German East Africa Company (Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft). The resistance was violently suppressed by an army commanded by Heinrich Wissmann. However, Wissmann’s arrival effectively put an end to the German East Africa Company’s administration of the area. From 1891, "German East Africa" was officially administered as a colony of the German Empire with its administrative headquarters in Dar es Salam. The colonial rulers expanded their power by exerting military force against local population groups. The violent regime of the colonial rulers was met with some resistance, most notably the →Maji-Maji War (1905-1907).

After the colony had been disputed during the First World War, the League of Nations appointed the British as the new rulers under the →Treaty of Versailles. The mainland (known as “Tanganyika”) gained independence from the British rulers in 1961 and united with Zanzibar in 1964 to form Tanzania. (JH)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German East Africa Company

Initially founded on 28 March 1884 in Berlin by Carl Peters and Count Behr-Bandelin as the Gesellschaft für deutsche Kolonisation, the aim was to acquire colonies. The first "expedition" to East Africa took place as early as 1884, during which Carl Peters took possession of territories by signing →"protection treaties" with local rulers. He subsequently succeeded in obtaining the issuance of a →"charter of protection" for his acquisitions. Subsequently, the Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft (German East Africa Company) was founded in 1887. The society exercised the sovereignty of the German Empire in the →"protectorate". The recognition of the territorial acquisitions by the German Empire led to conflicts with the Sultan of Zanzibar, which finally resulted in the resistance of the coastal population to German rule in 1888. The Society was unable to suppress the resistance, which is why the Society appealed to the German Empire for help. After the military suppression of the resistance, the German Empire took over the administration of the colony in 1890. The German East Africa Company was subsequently only economically active. (SF/JH)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German Empire

German Empire is the term used retrospectively to refer to the period in German history from 1871 to 1918. Under the rule of the House of Hohenzollern, which included both Prussian kings and German emperors, a German nation-state emerged for the first time in the form of a constitutional monarchy. The House of Hohenzollern mainly resided at the Berlin Palace. The German Empire had three consecutive emperors – Wilhelm I, Friedrich II, Wilhelm II – of whom only Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II had the opportunity to decide the fortunes of the state. Frederick II reigned for only a few months before he died of cancer. In terms of foreign policy, the German Empire was characterized by its entry into overseas imperialism and the associated competition with the other colonial powers; its domestic affairs mainly concerned the "social question" in the context of rapid industrialization. The politics in the German Empire was significantly influenced by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (in office from 1871 to 1890). (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German New Guinea

Under the name "German New Guinea", the German Empire took over the imperial →"protectorate" in Oceania administered by the →German New Guinea Company in 1899. The colonial possessions were later expanded through the addition of the Caroline and Palau Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands, Nauru and, after 1906, the Marshall Islands. With the exception of "German Samoa", "German New Guinea" thus comprised the totality of all German colonies located in the South Pacific (known collectively as the "German South Seas"). From 1910, Rabaul was the permanent seat of the colonial government. Together with rubber, stone nuts and phosphorus, the production and export of copra (dried coconut) was a central part of the colonial economy. Large coconut plantations were established for its extraction, on which - as in the phosphor mines or in the extraction of rubber - forced labor was common in addition to wage labor. An example of active resistance to the German occupiers is the 1910 strike of the Sokeh in the Marianas (Ponape/Pohnpei), which eventually turned into a guerrilla war and was violently ended in 1911 by the German navy and "police force." Resistance fighters were executed or deported, often in combination with forced labor.

Beginning in August 1914, Australian troops began to occupy parts of the colony (Kaiser-Wilhelms-Land, Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, and Nauru), while the Marianas, Caroline Islands, Marshall Islands, and Palau were surrendered to Japanese units almost without a fight. Members of the German administration, civilians, and settlers were gradually forced to leave the country and some were interned. In 1921, all Germans were formally expropriated. Australia received the mandate over New Guinea and kept it until 1975, when it was united with the former British New Guinea, which was also under Australian supervision, and received its independence. The Japanese-occupied territories came under U.S. rule after World War II and only gradually gained independence. The Marianas remain part of the U.S. to this day, although they have limited autonomy. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German protection force

The military units operating in the German colonies from 1891 to October 1919 were officially known as the “Schutztruppe”. Until 1896, some of these colonial armies had been subordinate to the “Imperial Naval Office” (Reichsmarineamt), while others had reported to the “Colonial Department of the German Foreign Office” (Kolonialabteilung des Auswärtigen Amts). From 1896, they were all brought under the wing of the Colonial Department, which was replaced by the →“Imperial Colonial Office” (Reichskolonialamt) in 1907. The colonial armies were a separate wing of the German military, independent from the “Imperial German Army” (Reichsheer) and the “Imperial German Navy” (Kaiserliche Marine), under the supreme command of the German Emperor. The local commander-in-chief was the →governor, who was authorized to issue orders to the commander of the local colonial army. →German East Africa, →Cameroon and →German South West Africa were all equipped with their own colonial armies. Their official duty was to “maintain public order and security” in the colonies, but they were also called upon to conquer colonial territories that had not been acquired by treaty, to crush local resistance known as “insurgencies”, to secure borders and to offer protection during →"expeditions". With the exception of "German South West Africa", the soldiers in these units were mainly recruited from the local communities and were under the command of German officers and non-commissioned officers (→Askari). By contrast, the colonial territories of →"German New Guinea", →"German Samoa" und →"Togo" only had a police force known as a →"Polizeitruppe“. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German Protectorate Act

The legal situation in the German colonies was first regulated in more detail on 17 April 1886 with the “Act Establishing the Legal Framework of the German Protectorates”. After several amendments, the law was referred to as the “German Protectorate Act” (Schutzgebietsgesetz) from 1900. This introduced German law for Europeans in the German colonies, drawing on the German Consular Jurisdiction Act (Konsulargerichtsbarkeitsgesetz) of 1879. As a result, important legal provisions of civil law, criminal law, judicial procedures and the judicial system in the German Empire also became effective for the German colonies. Further provisions specific to the colonies were also enacted over time. At the same time, →"protectorates" were not treated as states or part of the German Empire. As a result, the local communities did not acquire German citizenship; they were initially subject to the emperor’s legislative power. In the years that followed, the Chancellor of the German Empire and his authorized officials were also able to issue regulations affecting aspects such as the administration, courts and police. The basic structure of the German colonies was therefore founded upon a dual legal system with different laws for Europeans and the native inhabitants of the colonial territories. However, local legal concepts continued to exist in places where local authorities were inlcuded in the administration of the colonies; legal practises by local communities were also followed by some colonial officials, particularly the early ones, at least to a certain extent. Furthermore, many legal disputes were settled internatlly without recurrence to the German authorities. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German Samoa/ German Samoan Islands

In the mid-19th century, Great Britain, the USA and the German Empire started fighting for supremacy in the Samoan archipelago due to its strategically favorable position. The contesting powers initially pursued their goals by establishing trading settlements and concluding trade agreements. In the 1850s and 1860s, Hamburg merchants (e.g. →Godeffroy) managed to assert their dominance in this way. The political conflict between the three powers began to escalate in 1878 as they took advantage of the internal Samoan conflicts that had been simmering since 1880 to take leadership of the country. There had traditionally been no central royal authority in Samoa. Various matais (heads of families) now fought for supremacy, each supported by one of the three foreign powers. The tensions between the indigenous power holders and the three colonial forces led to conflicts akin to civil wars from 1887 to 1889 and in 1893/94. The power struggles were initially settled by the Treaty of Berlin (also: Samoan Treaty) in 1889, which established Samoa as a formally independent republic under the joint administration of the three powers. However, the conflict soon escalated again in 1899. The states involved in the struggle finally managed to negotiate an agreement on the division of Samoa with the help of neutral mediators: East Samoa was ceded to the Americans, West Samoa was handed over to the German Empire and Great Britain withdrew its claim. The western Samoan Islands (Upolu, Savai’i, Apolima and Manono) were unified under a German "protectorate" by virtue of a decree issued on 17 February 1900. Until the First World War, Samoans repeatedly resisted German rule and engaged in conflict. In 1914, New Zealand troops occupied Samoa and placed it under military administration. Even after the Treaty of Versailles, the territory remained under New Zealand administration by mandate of the League of Nations. In 1962 Samoa became independent. The east of Samoa is still a so-called unincorporated territory of the USA. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German South West Africa/ Namibia

"German South West Africa" was one of four colonies administered by the German Empire on the African continent and the only one in which Germans settled in large numbers. The colonization of South-West Africa began when German traders and trading companies (e.g. Adolf Lüderitz) started exploiting the coastal region and land was gradually seized by means of imperial treaties known as →“Schutzverträge”. From 1903 to 1908, local groups increasingly offered (military) resistance against the German colonial powers, and the German Colonial Army responded with genocidal reprisals against the Herero and Nama peoples (→genocide). In 1915, the German colony was invaded by troops sent by the Union of South Africa, which was allied with Great Britain. In 1919, the →Treaty of Versailles stipulated that the German Empire had to cede its colonies to the League of Nations. The area was subsequently administered as “South West Africa” and became a mandated – and then an occupied – territory of South Africa. The territory was then subject to the racist principles of the apartheid regime, which built upon the politics of subjugation and segregation that had prevailed in the German Empire. Following international negotiations and an armed struggle for liberation that began in the 1960s, Namibia gained independence from South Africa on 21 March 1990 and the Republic of Namibia was founded. In 1989, the Lower House of the German Parliament recognized the Federal Republic of Germany’s “special responsibility” towards its former colony and, in 2015, Germany and Namibia entered into negotiations to come to terms with the past and make amends for the colonization and genocide. There is still a German-speaking community in Namibia to this day. Windhoek has remained the capital of the Republic of Namibia as it was in the former colony of German South West Africa. (LF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German Witu Company

Witu (also known as “Wituland” or the “Witu Protectorate”) was an African sultanate on the north coast of modern-day Kenya. In 1867, Sultan Ahmed ibn Fumo Bakari had approached German travelers to Africa to negotiate a →“protection treaty” (Schutzvertrag) with the →German Empire and counter the expansion of Zanzibar. In 1878/79, he met the German brothers Clemens and Gustav Denhardt, who ultimately founded a company and purchased territory from the sultan on 8 April 1885. The brothers filed a request with the German Empire to obtain an →imperial charter for their →"protectorate" (Schutzgebiet), which was then granted on 27 May 1885. The Denhardts then handed over their territory to the German Witu Company (Deutsche Witu-Gesellschaft), which held sovereignty on behalf of the German Empire as a colonial company incorporated under German law. The newly formed "protectorate" was also known as “Swahililand”. The German Witu Company tried to establish an administration and a plantation economy and even managed to attract some settlers. By 1890, however, it had become so financially poor that it merged with the →German East Africa Company (Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft) by virtue of a contract dated 10 May 1890. On 1 July 1890, the "protectorate" was ceded to Great Britain as part of a German-British treaty, and Witu subsequently formed part of "British East Africa". As a result, the sultanate lost its independence. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

German-Russian Library Dialogue

The German-Russian Library Dialogue was launched in Moscow in September 2009 at the initiative of the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States, the Margarita Rudomino All-Russian State Library and the Berlin State Library. The aim is to conduct joint research into book collections in Germany and Russia that were displaced as a result of the war. This library initiative builds on the experience of the →German-Russian Museum Dialogue. (MO)

  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war

German-Russian Museum Dialogue

In November 2005, at the initiative of the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, more than 80 museums that suffered wartime losses founded the German-Russian Museum Dialogue. The aim is to conduct joint research into items of cultural property in Germany and Russia that were displaced as a result of the war. (MO)

  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war

Gosfond Literatury

The Gosfond (Госфонд), based in Moscow and Leningrad, was established at the end of 1944 as a special unit for literature as part of the →Trophy Brigades, with the task of replacing the losses suffered by Soviet libraries with German library holdings. The Gosfond Literatury was led by Margarita Rudomino. (MO)

  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war


The governor was the head of a colony’s civil administration. He was usually assigned a chancellor (for representative and judicial purposes), secretaries and other officials. He was authorized to issue administrative ordinances and police regulations and to punish those who failed to observe them. He was in charge of all German officials working in the colony and served as the commander-in-chief of the →“protection force” (Schutztruppe). The governor bore the official title of “Head of the Government” (Landeshauptmann) in →"German South West Africa" and →"Togo" until 1898, and in →"German New Guinea" until 1899. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts