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

An overview page with all terms is also available.


Palace salvage

The term "palace salvage" (Schlossbergung) was historically only used in the State of Saxony but is now anachronistically applied to the same circumstances in other German states and provinces. Between 1945 and 1949, members of the nobility (defamed as "Junkers") and land-owning bourgeoisie (defamed as "feudalistic and capitalist families related by marriage") who held over 100 hectares of land were expropriated without compensation on the basis of the →land reform regulations in the →Soviet Occupation Zone.

In practical terms, this initially led to refugees and homeless people being extensively billeted in mansions and manors (resulting in the destruction, theft or removal of the nobility’s private property) and ultimately to the "salvage of castles and palaces", i.e. directives to remove, dismantle and sometimes even destroy the inventories of such castles and palaces (works of art, decorative art, libraries, archives, other collections, household effects).

As some small castles and manor houses had served as storage facilities for war-related protection measures until 1945, the salvage of castles and palaces sometimes extended indiscriminately to both the ancestral property and the third-party property that had not yet been returned. The measures taken to salvage castles and palaces were structured very differently in each state of the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ); while monument preservation teams, museums, archives and libraries were actually supposed to record and take charge of "abandoned art holdings" according to Command Nos. 85 and 177 of the →Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD), this role was performed by mayors, the local police or even members of the public in many places.

The term is misleading in light of the fact that the confiscation measures not only affected rural properties, but also municipal properties (villas, weekend houses and apartment buildings). (MD)

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

Pan-German League

The Pan-German League (Alldeutsche Verband), formerly known as the General German League (Allgemeiner Deutscher Verband) until 1894, promoted German colonial interests from 1891 to 1939. The league’s agenda was shaped by military expansion and imperialism, and its ideology was based on social Darwinism and fueled by racist and anti-Semitic views. The league was particularly active in the German Empire and during the First World War and had a lasting impact on public and political debates. In addition to local and national groups, some sections were also based overseas. The league also espoused fundamental aspects of the nationalist ideology, including the ideals of “pan-Germanism”. The league is considered to be a forerunner of and paving the way for National Socialism and was only dissolved by the Nazi leaders in 1939. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

People's Police

The police administration in the GDR was known as the "Deutsche Volkspolizei" (German People’s Police). It was directed centrally by the Minister of the Interior, who was also the Chief of the People’s Police; the Deputy Minister of the Interior was responsible for running the headquarters. The police forces in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR not only served to avert danger; in contrast to the police concept in the Federal Republic of Germany, however, the People’s Police was also called upon to help build a socialist society. There are known cases where the People’s Police offered confiscated items (e.g. historical weapons and Nazi objects) to local museums so that they could be inspected and added to their own collections. The whereabouts of the other confiscated goods are currently unknown (similar to the →customs authorities). (MD)

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

Pirna Antiques (Dealership)

The Pirna Antiques (Dealership) emerged from another store (Pirna, Markt 14, taken over by Siegfried Kath, an East German who was deported to the Federal Republic of Germany, and reopened in Pirna, Lange Straße 44, on 12 December 1969). It was founded as a private limited company on 6 March 1974; after a remarkably successful start to its business activities, it was liquidated with effect from 1 January 1976 and subsequently declared a subsidiary of →Kunst und Antiquitäten GmbH (Art and Antiques Ltd., KuA). Its purchasing network extended to all GDR districts.

The company was converted to a nationally owned firm run by the district – named VEB (K) – on 1 January 1977. From 1976, its sole business purpose was to procure "cultural second-hand goods" to be exported for foreign currency by →KuA. The antique shop had over 100 warehouses (e.g. in Bornstedt, Neu-Fahrland, Gollma, Vetschau, Angelroda, Diesdorf, Geithain, Schwerin, Fröttstädt, Pirna-Goes – and 20 in Dresden alone) that mostly housed antiques sourced from its dense purchasing network. However, the antique shop also procured rare books and other historical writings from public collections (e.g. several hundred documents from the Altenburg city archives in 1988) and sold them to the non-socialist economic area via KuA. In doing so, the company is thought to have generated approx. 20 million →valuta marks in 1989.

As a result of the export ban on cultural assets imposed by the Ministerrat (Council of Ministers) in November 1989, the company ceased operations in the same month on the instructions of the general manager of KuA. Nevertheless, it made one last major shipment on 28 November 1989. In early December 1989, the antique shop’s warehouses were closed down at the behest of the Ministerrat, and its inventories were appraised by auditors commissioned by the state from the end of January 1990 and then exploited for domestic purposes with the support of the Minister for Culture (→Mühlenbeck warehouse). The antique shop had to fully cease its business activities on 28 February 1990. The relevant archival records, such as those documenting the antique shop’s activities as a supplier for the →Kommerzielle Koordinierung (Coordination Division in the East German Ministry for Foreign Trade, KoKo), can be found in over 700 fascicles in the Federal Archives (e.g. BArch DL 210, No. 1709 ff., 1833 ff., 2083 ff., 2173 ff., 3074). (MD)

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

Police force

The internal security of all German colonies (with the exception of the →Kiautschou Bay Leased Territory) was ensured by both the →“protection force” (Schutztruppe) and the "police force" (Polizeitruppe) organized under civil law. The head of the state police was the →governor, who was also in charge of subordinate provincial and local police authorities. In independent communities, police power was exercised by the local mayor (Gemeindevorsteher). From an organizational perspective, the "police forces" were closely intertwined with the "protection forces" from 1895 to around 1906, but then regained their independence.
The senior staff were usually officers provided by the colonial rulers, while the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers were recruited from the local communities (→Askari). A large proportion of the personnel came from the local colonial army, with the exception of Togo and the colonies in Oceania, where there were no "protection forces".
The activities of the German colonial police forces ended when the colonial territories were occupied by troops from the Western Entente Powers during the First World War. They formally disbanded in 1919 as a result of the →Treaty of Versailles. There were similar police forces in the colonies held by other European powers. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts


As the project funding granted by the German Lost Art Foundation is limited to three years per research project, it is often impossible to examine the entire scope of a collection or holding in one go during a →systematic investigation of collection holdings. In such cases, selected groups of holdings are prioritized during the check. Further groups of holdings can then be examined during a follow-up project. It is sometimes even necessary to prioritize items within a research project or group of holdings based on the value of the items, their relevance within the context of the collection, the prospect of success in determining their source, the urgency of the matter, the degree of suspicion or other aspects. (SL)

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution


From 1963 until well into the 1970s, museums were gradually assigned thematic areas of specialization for their collections and exhibitions to avoid overlaps between the work of different institutions and prevent competition for materials within a district ("concentration of efforts and resources") and ultimately to create a network of museums with coordinated content. As a result, the collections amassed by museums over several decades were completely outsourced to specialist museums (e.g. often in the areas of prehistory and early history, natural history / botany, militaria). Once the museums had been profiled, those classified as superfluous were not restocked and were either closed or liquidated – and the highly heterogeneous remains of local collections were handed over to the superordinate district museum in each case.

For example, the Teltow Museum in Zossen / Mahlow was liquidated in 1967 following a decision passed by the district council due to its insufficient "cultural-political relevance" and incorrect "cadre-political composition". Once the relevant elements of its collections had been handed over to other museums, the remaining items were approved for sale to members of the public, including prominent buyers such as the GDR writers Peter Hacks and Gisela Heller. (MD)

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

Property (as a concept in the GDR)

According to the legal understanding in the GDR, private property (which were subject to property tax) included a person’s own immovable assets (e.g. house, real estate), luxury movable assets with a total value of over 10,000 marks that did not belong to the person’s furnishings (e.g. jewelry) and works of art by artists who had "died over fifteen years ago" with a total value of over 50,000 marks. The legal basis for this was the Property Tax Act (VStG), as amended on 18 September 1970 (Gesetzblatt, Sonderdruck 674), the Valuation Act (BewG), as amended on 18 September 1970 (Gesetzblatt, Sonderdruck 674), and the Property Tax and Valuation Guidelines of 15 January 1955 (Gesetzblatt, Sonderdruck 70). For more information, please refer to →national property. (MD)

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

Protection treaty

Many territories, especially those in East and South West Africa, had been acquired by the →German Empire by virtue of extremely unequal treaties following military demonstrations of power. In exchange for a vague promise of protection and a very small amount of money by German standards, tribal chiefs handed over swathes of land to German merchants and companies – despite the fact that local leaders often had no (exclusive) power of disposition regarding these lands. Due to the language barrier, they were often unaware of the details of the treaties or the consequences of such land transfers. Nevertheless, signing a treaty with a foreign power could also mean an increase in prestige vis-à-vis other local authorities.
From 1884, these “protection treaties” were officially ratified by the German Empire; the German signatories to the treaty (individuals or companies) were granted comprehensive sovereign rights with no separation of powers. In the →“German Protectorate Act” (Schutzgebietsgesetz) of 1886, the German Empire reserved sovereignty and certain rights of intervention – without specifying the exact details of its powers. This reduced the state’s involvement in financial and organizational affairs to a minimum. This only changed later. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts


The colonies held by the German Empire were referred to as “protectorates” (Schutzgebiete), which can be traced back to Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck had initially opposed the acquisition of colonies by the German Empire, instead favoring an informal trading empire in which German companies successfully traded with non-European territories and developed economic strongholds in those areas without actually occupying them or establishing an independent statehood. It was not until 1884 that he followed the example of the British colonizers and placed the established properties of German merchants in non-European areas under the “protection” of the German Empire by issuing imperial charters known as →„Schutzbriefe“ (charter of protection). However, the areas were to remain under the administration of the private companies. It was not until 1899 that all “protectorates” were administered directly by the German Empire – with the exception of the Marshall Islands, which also followed suit in 1906. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Provenance gap

A "provenance gap" is the term used to describe periods in the history of an object in which its whereabouts or ownership are unknown. If an item has a provenance gap between 1933 and 1945, provenance research is required. Even after provenance research has been carried out, provenance gaps often remain because the sources do not allow the provenance to be determined with sufficient certainty (e.g. due to lost or destroyed records). The Guidelines for the Standardization of Provenance Information, published by the Provenance Research Association (Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung e. V.), contain recommendations for the labeling of provenance gaps.(SL)

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution

Provenance mark

A "provenance mark" is a reference number, sticker, stamp, label, seal, embossment, →ex libris or other feature found on an item that provides information about its provenance. As part of an →autopsy, a targeted search is carried out for provenance markings on the item at hand and they are documented for further provenance research. As provenance markings have occasionally been removed intentionally or accidentally, or sometimes even forged, it can help to work with restorers. The examination of provenance markings is particularly commonplace for paintings and books. However, provenance markings are much less common for other types of items, such as graphics and three-dimensional objects, so source-based provenance research makes more sense in such cases.(SL)

Provenance marks in the database Proveana

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution
  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war
  • Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR
  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Punitive expedition

In the colonial context, the term refers to a military campaign of the colonial power, limited in time and space, to suppress and punish opposition. The use of the term "punitive expedition" is euphemistic and suggests that it serves to restore law and order. Several hundred "punitive expeditions" were carried out in the German colonies, spreading violence and terror. In connection with "punitive expeditions" there was frequent looting of both livestock and food, but especially of cultural objects and human remains. Many of the objects looted by German colonial soldiers ended up in ethnological museums. One international "punitive expedition" under German leadership was the participation of German troops in the suppression of the resistance of the so-called "Boxer" movement in China. (JH)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts