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

An overview page with all terms is also available.


Search for heirs

Provenance research is followed by the search for heirs. Once the provenance of a confiscated item has been successfully researched and a legal owner has been identified, it is time to search for that person’s descendants or claimants so that a “fair and just solution” can be brought about in line with the Washington Principles. The search for legal heirs and successors is not the same as genealogy, where family history and branches are reconstructed. An introduction with information and links can be found on the website of the German Lost Art Foundation. A detailed description of the methodology and relevant sources can be found in the Provenance Research Manual. (SL)

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution


In context of Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persucation:

This is a general term used to describe the forced attachment of goods by the state. In the context of the cultural property confiscated in Nazi Germany, Jewish citizens’ homes were often seized as a form of confiscation without compensation (their property was expropriated with the aim of further →"utilization"). (SL)

In context of Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR:

In the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ), items could be impounded without a court order by the →Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD) and its members or by specialist departments set up by the authorities in each province. In some cases, items were also impounded by police departments, the Committee for the Protection of Public Property, which was the forerunner of the →Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security, MfS), and even by local mayors on the orders or with the toleration of the occupying power. In the GDR, items could only be impounded without a court order by the →Volkspolizei (People's Police), the →MfS or the →customs authorities. Those affected had no possibility of legal recourse against the confiscation of their property. The impounded items kept in evidence storage facilities (e.g. the central evidence storage facility in Berlin-Rummelsburg) were sold to party offices, authorities and public institutions. (MD)

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution
  • Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR

Sequestration (order)

This was based on Command No. 124, issued by the →Soviet Administration in Germany on 30 October 1945, with regard to the confiscation of commercial establishments and also private property "belonging to persons marked by the Soviet military command in special lists or in some other way". This was officially understood to mean the property of active Nazis, arms manufacturers and "war profiteers" in general.

Unofficially, however, this command also gave rise to the arbitrary confiscation of private land and business premises, including all furnishings, in order to either nationalize such property or claim it as reparations for the USSR. Companies were added to the stock corporation administered by the Soviet powers (SAG). In conjunction with Command Nos. 126 and 167, this led to the confiscation of almost the entire large-scale industry, parts of other industries, craft and trading companies, shops, hotels and guesthouses by mid-1946 (the remainder of which followed years later in campaigns such as →Operation Rose). Some of the relevant archival records can be found in the Federal Archives under "BArch DO 3 Zentrale Deutsche Kommission für Sequestrierung und Beschlagnahme". (MD)

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

Settler colony / settlement colony

A distinction can be made between various forms of colonization in the European colonial empires. The purpose of “settlement colonies” was to permanently accommodate settlers from the “motherland” (e.g. in response to high birth rates or to deport socially marginalized and/or convicted citizens or political opponents to penal colonies). In the first case, incentives were often created, such as by making it easier for citizens to start a business overseas and covering their emigration and settlement costs. The extent to which the local populations were displaced, assimilated or even killed in the process was highly dependent on the duration and form of colonial rule and post-colonial politics. In colonies mainly acquired to extend the colonizer’s political power and to pursue economic interests, people were mostly sent from the “motherland” to administer the colonies and actual immigration did not take place at all or only to a limited extent. The present-day states of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and the USA are former settler colonies, and present-day Namibia is a former settlement colony of the German Empire. Former settlement colonies are often characterized by a high percentage of inhabitants of European descent. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Socialist Unity Party (SEP)

The term "Sozialistische Einheitspartei" (Socialist Unity Party, SEP) was only used occasionally by those who wished to distance themselves from the →Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and criticize its actions, mostly in West German publications. This abbreviation remained unknown in the GDR. (MD)

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

Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED)

When the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Communist Party of Germany, KPD) and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD) were involuntarily merged in the →Soviet Occupation Zone on 21 April 1946, this resulted in the foundation of the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Socialist Unity Party of Germany, SED). While all party leaderships were initially to be represented equally by a former member of the KPD and a former member of the SPD, this system was abolished in 1949 and unwanted officials were gradually ousted under the Ulbricht government. As the national party of the GDR, it assumed the leading role of the Soviet Union and the CPSU and saw itself as the "political leader recognized by all social forces in the struggle to build socialism and communism in the GDR", but it did not allow free and secret elections at all until 18 March 1990. (MD)

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

Soviet Military Administration (SMA)

In the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ), a local "Soviet Military Administration" (SMA) was instated in each state, which was subordinate to the "Soviet Military Administration in Germany" (SMAD for "Sowjetische Militäradministration in Deutschland"  or SVAG for "Soviet Military Administration in Germany"  or СВАГ for "Советская военная администрация в Германии"). Until 1949, the military administrations in each state of the SBZ were abbreviated as "SMAB" (SMA in Brandenburg), "SMAM" (SMA in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), “SMAS” (SMA in Saxony), "SMASA" (SMA in Saxony-Anhalt) and "SMAT(h)" (SMA in Thuringia).

The occupation policy formally began on 5 June 1945 when it was declared that Germany would be governed by the four Allies (victorious powers, Anti-Hitler Coalition). These governing powers were to be exercised by the Allied Control Council, within which the commander-in-chief of each of the four occupying armies would assume responsibility for his own zone. The SMAD became the administrative headquarters of the Soviet forces in Berlin-Karlshorst. The commands issued by the SMAD became law, such as those related to the →land reform in September that provided for the expropriation of land without compensation and the confiscation of movable property in castles, palaces, mansions and manors (→palace salvage).

A distinction must be made between the commands of the Supreme Commander of the SMAD and the numerous commands issued by local military commanders, which were only valid at local level; even in scholarly texts, these local commands are unfortunately often enumerated as SMAD orders, even though they were actually only SMA commands enforced in local areas.

Following the foundation of the GDR as a state, the SMAD was dissolved on 11 November 1949 and its duties were formally assigned to the German administrative bodies. The SMAD was replaced by the Sowjetische Kontrollkommission (Soviet Control Commission, SKK) at the same headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst, which monitored the implementation of the Potsdam Agreement until 28 May 1953 before being reorganized as the "High Commission of the USSR in Germany", which only survived for one year. Its tasks in the GDR were then carried out by the USSR Ambassador and the High Command of the Soviet Armed Forces. All commands issued by the SMAD can be found in the Federal Archives under "BArch DX 1/1 to DX1/1237". Local SMA commands, directives and circulars are preserved – in varying degrees of completeness – by archives in German states, districts, towns, cities and museums. (MD)

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

Soviet Occupation Zone

Soviet Occupation Zone (Sowjetische Besatzungszone, SBZ) was the name of the part of Germany that was administered by the Soviet military after the Second World War. The SBZ was not identical to the territories that had been conquered by the Red Army by 8 May 1945; the victorious powers agreed to hand over some American and British-occupied parts of the country to the Soviet troops from 1 July 1945, and some Soviet-occupied parts of West Berlin were similarly handed over to the Western Allies (“change of occupation”).

After the GDR had been founded as a state, West Germans who continued to use the term "SBZ" to refer to the former area of "Central Germany" in their speech and writing made it clear that they did not recognize the sovereignty or borders of the GDR (particularly the Oder-Neisse Line), nor did they recognize the Eastern German territories that Stalin had ceded to Poland.

In a declaration issued by the Bundeskabinett (Federal Cabinet) on 9 June 1950, the politicians representing the Federal Republic of Germany denied the GDR government any right to speak on behalf of the German people as a whole and declared all its treaties null and void. This remained the politically consistent West German stance until the Grundlagenvertrag (Basic Treaty) of 21 December 1972 (which came into force on 21 June 1973). (MD)

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

Special Archive Moscow

The Special Archive Moscow was founded in March 1946: it was operated in the 1990s as the “Centre for Preservation of Historical Documentary Collections” (Центр сохранения историко-документальных коллекций), and affiliated with the Russian State Military Archives in 1999. It houses file collections that were removed from the various →storage sites and official agencies by the Red Army and taken to the Soviet Union in 1945. It includes both state records of German provenance and archive material that was confiscated by German authorities, both in Germany and in other countries occupied by German troops. The latter holdings were restituted on a large scale after 1990. (MO)

  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war


The name “Arthur Speyer” is associated with numerous museums and private collections in Europe and North America, representing three generations of a German family of collectors and dealers specializing in “ethnographic items”. The family had close ties to a number of ethnographic museums, selling them objects, buying from them and exchanging items. Confusion often arises from the fact that there were three people named “Arthur Speyer”. For clarification purposes, they are referred to as Arthur Speyer I (1858-1923), Arthur Speyer II (1894-1958) and Arthur Speyer III (1922-2007). Arthur Speyer I was a zoologist who dedicated his entire work to the trade in ethnographic items after the First World War. By this point in time, he had already established ties to museums but continued to expand his network. He sent out letters containing lists of the items on offer, illustrations and sometimes even entire collections for viewing. At the same time, he was contracted to obtain certain objects and offered to sell items for museums on commission (especially in the case of →“duplicates”). After his death in 1923, the business was taken over by his son Arthur Speyer II. He had already become acquainted with the network of museums, collectors and dealers before his father’s death and was actively involved in the business, which he continued to run until his death in 1958. The remaining collections were then divided amongst his widow, his son Arthur Speyer III and his daughter. Arthur Speyer III in particular exchanged and traded with museums and members of the public in various European countries until the late 1960s.  (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts


This was the abbreviation of "Staatssicherheitsdienst" (State Security Service), the colloquial term for the →Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security, MfS) in the GDR. (MD)

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

State Art Trade of the GDR

The term "Staatlicher Kunsthandel" (State Art Trade) refers collectively to numerous successive state-owned companies in the GDR that were tasked with dealing in antiques and current works of fine and applied art: Staatlicher Kunsthandel (1955-1962), VEH Moderne Kunst (1962-1967), VEH Antiquitäten (1967-1974); and VEH Bildende Kunst und Antiquitäten, Staatlicher Kunsthandel der DDR (1974-1990).

In 1974, the latter became responsible for all domestic purchases and sales of art, antiques, postage stamps and coins in all major towns and cities of the GDR – in addition to its core task of selling works of contemporary art and handicrafts in galleries. Staatlicher Kunsthandel increasingly competed for pieces with the →Kommerzielle Koordinierung (Commercial Coordination Division, KoKo), particularly with its supplier →Pirna Antiques (a nationally owned firm, VEB).

Staatlicher Kunsthandel had its own restoration workshops and exhibition rooms, where museums officially had pre-emptive rights to the exhibits on sale. It was subordinate to the →Ministerium für Kultur (Ministry of Culture, MfK) and organized annual auctions; its auctions for pre-contemporary art were mainly held in Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden. Extensive records can be found in the Federal Archives (BArch DR 144). (MD)

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

State Commission for Art Affairs

The Staatliche Kommission für Kunstangelegenheiten (State Commission for Art Affairs, StaKuKo) was a forerunner of the →Ministerium für Kultur (Ministry of Culture, MfK) from 1951 to 1953 (August 1951 to June 1952: Wilhelmstraße 63, Berlin; July 1952 to December 1953: Molkenmarkt 1-3, Palais Schwerin).

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

State Security Service (SSD)

The "Staatssicherheitsdienst" (State Security Service, SSD) was the colloquial name used in the Federal Republic of Germany to refer to the →Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security, MfS) in the GDR. (MD)

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

Storage site

From 1939, the holdings of German museums, libraries and archives were moved into storage to keep them safe from the impact of warfare. Temporary protection was ensured by placing them in museum cellars, castles, railway tunnels, →flak bunkers, bank vaults or mines. This relocation of the holdings had varying consequences: they were sometimes destroyed at the storage site or during transport, and they sometimes became dispersed or were looted in the turmoil of war.
In 1945, numerous storage sites were visited by the →Trophy Brigades of the Red Army and the holdings were transported to the Soviet Union. Such items are referred to as ‘wartime losses’ or ‘cultural/looted property displaced as a result of war’, as distinct from the term ‘looted property’.
After 1945, the storage sites located in the eastern territories no longer belonged to the German Reich or its successor states. (MO)

  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war

Systematic investigation of collection holdings

The classic type of project funded by the German Lost Art Foundation. To a certain extent, this is the classic type of project funded by the German Lost Art Foundation where a cultural heritage institution (e.g. a library or museum) systematically investigates the provenance of a specific part of a collection or even an entire collection or book inventory. (SL)

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution