Information for the search for heirs

With its Lost Art Database, the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion of­fers present-day heirs and claimants the op­por­tu­ni­ty to car­ry out their own search for cul­tur­al as­sets seized as a re­sult of Nazi per­se­cu­tion (re­ferred to in the fol­low­ing as „Nazi-con­fis­cat­ed prop­er­ty“) and re­port their own lost items. How­ev­er, the de­scen­dants of fam­i­lies per­se­cut­ed be­tween 1933 and 1945 of­ten do not know any­thing about the loss or the where­abouts of their prop­er­ty. Un­der the terms of its statute, the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion can­not car­ry out an ac­tive search for heirs; how­ev­er, as part of its re­mit, the Foun­da­tion pro­vides di­rect fund­ing for this pur­pose and of­fers a con­tin­u­ous­ly up­dat­ed body of knowl­edge in the „Search for heirs“ sec­tion of its web­site with in­for­ma­tion on method­ol­o­gy, pro­cess­es, re­search pos­si­bil­i­ties and sources that can be used in the search for heirs.

The typ­i­cal steps in­volved in find­ing right­ful claimants are set out be­low.

Steps 1 to 3 are an in­te­gral part of tra­di­tion­al prove­nance re­search:

In the first step, the writ­ten records re­lat­ing to the col­lec­tion con­cerned are con­sult­ed, if avail­able, in or­der to de­ter­mine the prob­a­ble ori­gin of an ob­ject and iden­ti­fy ref­er­ences to the own­er’s name. For these in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the fol­low­ing doc­u­ments are the most im­por­tant:

  • re­ceipt doc­u­men­ta­tion, such as re­ceipt books, in­com­ing in­ven­to­ries, ac­ces­sion books, ac­qui­si­tion lists;
  • col­lec­tion doc­u­men­ta­tion, such as col­lec­tion cat­a­logs, in­ven­to­ry reg­is­ters, card in­dex­es;
  • cor­re­spon­dence from the pe­ri­od in ques­tion, such as ex­changes of let­ters re­lat­ing to the ac­qui­si­tion of an ob­ject, in­quiries to art deal­ers, sell­ers’ of­fers, mail reg­is­ters and post books;
  • oth­er writ­ten records, such as auc­tion lots, an­no­tat­ed auc­tion cat­a­logs, in­voic­es, sales re­ceipts, art­work list­ings; and
  • the ob­jects them­selves, such as paint­ings and graph­ic prints (no­ta­tions on back, stick­ers, in­scrip­tions, cus­toms stamps; for por­traits, al­so: those de­pict­ed as ref­er­ence to the fam­i­ly), books and writ­ten texts (book­plates, supral­i­bros, sig­na­tures, stamps, ded­i­ca­tions, gen­er­al marks of pre­vi­ous own­er), arts and crafts, house­hold goods, tex­tiles (mono­grams, en­grav­ings, coats of arms).

Free databas­es are like­wise avail­able to all prove­nance re­searchers. These on­line databas­es con­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion on in­di­vid­u­als,prove­nance mark­ings and ob­jects may at least help with the names and marks of for­mer own­ers that are al­ready fa­mil­iar with­in the re­search field.

There are al­so a num­ber of ser­vices for which users must pay. The charges for us­ing these ser­vices are el­i­gi­ble for fund­ing by the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion and can there­fore be tak­en in­to ac­count in an ap­pli­ca­tion for project fund­ing.

Loss of own­er­ship or pos­ses­sion be­tween 1933 and 1945 cov­ered a wide spec­trum, from in­di­vid­u­al emer­gen­cy sale, auc­tion, ex­change, giv­ing away and fidu­cia­ry trans­fer to ac­quain­tances, through of­fi­cial seizures, con­fis­ca­tion, with­hold­ing, forced sale, ex­pro­pri­a­tion and „Aryaniza­tion“, to loot­ing and de­struc­tion by of­fi­cials or pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als. In­for­ma­tion about such pro­ce­dures is pro­vid­ed in par­tic­u­lar by:

  • the Na­tion­al So­cial­ist Re­ich­sanzeiger (lists of ex­pa­tri­at­ed per­sons, lists of per­sons from whom ob­jects were ex­pro­pri­at­ed, lists of in­sti­tu­tions from which ob­jects were ex­pro­pri­at­ed), avail­able in li­braries or pro­vid­ed in full in dig­i­tal form by Mannheim Uni­ver­si­ty li­brary;
  • the Na­tion­al So­cial­ist dai­ly press (ad­ver­tise­ments, an­nounce­ments—al­so of auc­tions) avail­able in vary­ing de­grees of com­plete­ness in lo­cal li­braries, mu­se­ums and archives;
  • Na­tion­al So­cial­ist ad­min­is­tra­tive records re­lat­ing to the state, re­gion­al/provin­cial, area/dis­trict and par­ty au­thor­i­ties in­volved in the theft, in­clud­ing tax au­thor­i­ty files such as those of the re­gion­al fi­nance of­fice with as­set lists and buy­er lists from the so-called Jew­ish auc­tions (in the state archives), po­lice ad­min­is­tra­tion files (in the city, dis­trict and state archives; Gestapo files in the Fed­er­al Archives), cus­toms au­thor­i­ty files (in the Fed­er­al Archives), cul­tur­al ad­min­is­tra­tion files (of the provin­cial mu­se­um keep­er, provin­cial cu­ra­tor etc. in the state archives), Nazi dis­trict lead­er­ship files (in­clud­ing files on „Aryaniza­tion“ and „de-Jew­ing“, the cap­ture of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents etc. in present-day city, dis­trict and state archives), and many more;
  • per­son­al doc­u­ments that be­longed to the vic­tims them­selves and peo­ple they knew (let­ters, post­cards, di­aries, note­books pre- and post-1945).

If the re­search in­to the archive doc­u­ments be­long­ing to the col­lec­tion it­self does not yield any find­ings about the fam­i­ly re­la­tion­ships of the vic­tim, ref­er­ence works and spe­cial­ist lit­er­a­ture and some databas­es may help fur­ther.

Of these, the so-called „gray lit­er­a­ture“ (non-for­mal­ly pub­lished works) is usu­al­ly more fruit­ful than ref­er­ence works or databas­es be­cause this lit­er­a­ture of­ten ex­tends be­yond mere for­mal in­for­ma­tion, de­scribes fam­i­ly his­to­ries and men­tions im­por­tant ad­di­tion­al de­tails (e.g. em­i­gra­tion des­ti­na­tions, name changes and fa­mil­ial re­la­tion­ships) which can be an­a­lyzed as part of the re­search. Gray lit­er­a­ture is col­lect­ed to a cer­tain ex­tent via the fed­er­al state and re­gion­al li­braries; more­over, it can on­ly be re­quest­ed in (city and re­gion­al) mu­se­ums, (dis­trict, city, spe­cial and pri­vate) archives and from (his­tor­i­cal, memo­ri­al and lo­cal) so­ci­eties.

In ad­di­tion to resti­tu­tion records and on­line re­search tools, the fol­low­ing archive sources are es­sen­tial for in­for­ma­tion on the pos­si­ble ex­is­tence of Holo­caust sur­vivors of a fam­i­ly (i.e. chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, spous­es, sib­lings, oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers) and on pos­si­ble dif­fer­ent per­son­al names of present-day le­gal suc­ces­sors:

  • the Res­i­den­ten­liste—the list of Jew­ish res­i­dents in the Ger­man Re­ich 1933–1945 (in the Fed­er­al Archives)
  • res­i­dents’ reg­is­tra­tion cards (in city archives, state archives)
  • cit­i­zens’ reg­is­ters (in mu­se­um col­lec­tions, city archives, state archives)
  • ad­dress books e.g. for iden­ti­fy­ing house­hold mem­bers or the date of em­i­gra­tion (in li­braries, mu­se­um col­lec­tions, city archives, state archives)
  • so-called „Aryaniza­tion“ and „de-Jew­ing“ files (in city archives, state archives)
  • files of the re­gion­al fi­nance of­fices (in­clud­ing with in­for­ma­tion on “cur­ren­cy of­fences“ of fam­i­ly mem­bers liv­ing abroad)

All of these doc­u­ments up to the end of the war in 1945 con­tain in­for­ma­tion on mat­ri­mo­ni­al re­la­tion­ships and liv­ing cir­cum­stances as well as on house­hold and fam­i­ly mem­bers and their de­scen­dants. Rel­a­tives liv­ing abroad, or those who had al­ready em­i­grat­ed at the time the in­for­ma­tion was gath­ered, are fre­quent­ly men­tioned.

For steps 4 and 5, re­search in na­tion­al archives is pos­si­ble:

When con­sid­er­ing the is­sue of en­ti­tle­ment to claim, con­sid­er­a­tion should be giv­en to whether ef­forts to reach a set­tle­ment or com­pen­sa­tion have al­ready been made in pre­vi­ous years (up to when the Fed­er­al Resti­tu­tion Law came in­to force in 1957) on an in­sti­tu­tion­al or pri­vate ba­sis. See de­tailed guide­lines 2019.

Pre­vi­ous at­tempts at re­trans­fer, ne­go­ti­a­tions about pos­si­ble re­lin­quish­ment, agree­ments re­lat­ing to the per­ma­nent loan of ob­jects and so on and so forth should be re­viewed and doc­u­ment­ed. Per­son­al ex­pres­sions of in­tent made by the vic­tim af­ter 1945 (e.g. an en­ti­tled per­son con­tact­ed a mu­se­um or made state­ments on the de­sired treat­ment of the loot­ed prop­er­ty as part of a resti­tu­tion pro­ce­dure) are al­so in­clud­ed here.

One the one hand, these doc­u­ments pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on places of res­i­dence and names af­ter 1945. On the oth­er hand, such in­for­ma­tion is in­di­rect­ly im­por­tant for dis­cus­sions with le­gal heirs and, where ap­pli­ca­ble, for the pos­si­ble re­quest for in­ter­ven­tion to the Ad­vi­so­ry Com­mis­sion or for the work of the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion with re­gard to its sup­port in find­ing a fair and just so­lu­tion (see step 10).

The Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment Com­mis­sion­er for Cul­ture and the Me­dia (BKM) and the Fed­er­al Of­fice for Cen­tral Ser­vices and Un­re­solved Prop­er­ty Is­sues (BADV) rec­om­mend that „the archive doc­u­ments from the Na­tion­al So­cial­ist era ad­min­is­tered by the BADV, De­part­ment C2, which have orig­i­nat­ed in con­nec­tion with prop­er­ty seizures with re­gard to per­se­cut­ed in­di­vid­u­als, as well as the avail­able case files are used for prove­nance re­search in ac­cor­dance with the Fed­er­al Resti­tu­tion Law (BRüG)“ (see Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the BRüG).

An in­quiry to the BADV is made, on the one hand, to con­firm whether the claims to the prop­er­ty of an in­di­vid­u­al per­se­cut­ed by the Nazis are al­ready on file there and, on the oth­er hand, to avoid dou­ble com­pen­sa­tion (in ac­cor­dance with the Joint Dec­la­ra­tion 1999, I), if there were al­ready Fed­er­al gov­ern­ment com­pen­sa­tion pay­ments.

Af­ter 1945, Holo­caust sur­vivors or their de­scen­dants sub­mit­ted claims for com­pen­sa­tion (non-ma­te­ri­al dam­ages) and resti­tu­tion (ma­te­ri­al dam­ages) to the oc­cu­py­ing au­thor­i­ties on a case-by-case ba­sis; from 1949 on­wards, these were sub­mit­ted to the resti­tu­tion of­fices in the fed­er­al states. In ad­di­tion to in­for­ma­tion on whether and what com­pen­sa­tion and oth­er re­mu­ner­a­tion ef­forts have al­ready been un­der­tak­en by the state, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing the files main­ly pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the pro­cess of loss of pos­ses­sion and the where­abouts of de­scen­dants, rel­a­tives and heirs.

For a re­mote ex­am­i­na­tion, on­ly the records of the Berlin resti­tu­tion of­fices are avail­able, and these on­ly to a cer­tain depth: the records are pre­sent­ed in sum­ma­rized form and can­not be read dig­i­tal­ly in their en­tire­ty. Re­search on site in each case is there­fore es­sen­tial.

The resti­tu­tion records are gen­er­al­ly lo­cat­ed in the rel­e­vant archives at the vic­tim’s last place of res­i­dence or, es­pe­cial­ly in the case of em­i­grants, at the place of seizure (e.g. in­ter­na­tion­al ports).

For steps 6 to 9, in­ter­na­tion­al re­search is al­so nec­es­sary in most cas­es:

For in­for­ma­tion to be ob­tained on the pos­si­ble present-day where­abouts of fam­i­ly mem­bers af­ter the end of the war in 1945, heirs need to have al­ready made con­tact with na­tion­al au­thor­i­ties at an ear­li­er point in time (e.g. as part of a resti­tu­tion re­quest or a claim to a mu­se­um for the re­turn of an ob­ject). On­ly in such cas­es can file-based re­search be un­der­tak­en at na­tion­al lev­el, in­clud­ing at:

  • lo­cal courts
  • no­taries’ of­fices
  • reg­istry of­fices
  • res­i­dents’ reg­is­tra­tion of­fices
  • mu­se­um archives (e.g. cor­re­spon­dence on miss­ing cul­tur­al as­sets)
  • city archives
  • state archives (e.g. resti­tu­tion records)
  • BADV (e.g. resti­tu­tion records)
  • the Cen­tral Coun­cil of Jews in Ger­many, Jew­ish re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties (pro­vid­ing the de­scen­dants have re­joined a Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Ger­many), in­sti­tu­tions ded­i­cat­ed to re­mem­brance (if ge­nealog­i­cal in­quiries have al­ready been made to them or doc­u­ments hand­ed over, e.g. the Moses Mendelssohn Acade­my)

Oth­er than this, transna­tion­al re­search must be un­der­tak­en. The em­i­gra­tion des­ti­na­tions of in­di­vid­u­al fam­i­ly mem­bers can be de­ter­mined, e.g. (be­sides the al­ready men­tioned ref­er­ence, gray and spe­cial­ist lit­er­a­ture) through re­search in­to the dig­i­tized is­sues of the Jew­ish ex­ile press (text and ad­vert sec­tion), see Dig­i­tal copies.

Oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties (e.g. re­search in­to ad­min­is­tra­tive au­thor­i­ty files of oth­er coun­tries or the in­for­ma­tion from these, es­pe­cial­ly if first names—e.g. Moritz, More­au, Mau­rice—or last names—e.g. Kohn, Cohn, Co­hen, Cone—have changed in the des­ti­na­tion coun­try) are not avail­able at a na­tion­al lev­el.

In ad­di­tion, search­ing ge­nealog­i­cal databas­es is rec­om­mend­ed. The ge­neal­o­gy ser­vices (such as An­ces­try) that cost mon­ey can be used free of charge, e.g. on com­put­er ter­mi­nals at the Em­i­gra­tion Mu­se­um BallinStadt in Ham­burg and at the Ger­man Em­i­gra­tion Cen­ter in Bre­mer­haven.

It can be worth mak­ing an in­quiry to cen­tral in­for­ma­tion ser­vices (such as the In­ter­na­tion­al Trac­ing Ser­vice) or in­ter­na­tion­al or­ga­ni­za­tions (such as the Leo Baeck In­sti­tute or the Jew­ish Claims Con­fer­ence) be­cause these in­sti­tu­tions of­ten have a ge­nealog­i­cal body of knowl­edge at their dis­pos­al. More­over, quite a few Jew­ish as­so­ci­a­tions and or­ga­ni­za­tions (such as the Jew­ish cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ties or Jew­ish re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties) have ei­ther al­ready car­ried out search­es for heirs or have es­tab­lished con­tact with the de­scen­dants of peo­ple that were per­se­cut­ed by the Nazis.

Mak­ing an in­quiry to in­sti­tu­tions and net­works that are spe­cial­ly ded­i­cat­ed to re­mem­brance (e.g. Yad Vashem) or fam­i­ly re­search (e.g. Jew­ish­Gen) is a pos­si­ble op­tion, as is send­ing a re­quest for sup­port to na­tion­al and in­ter­na­tion­al ge­neal­o­gy as­so­ci­a­tions (e.g. Comp­Gen). How­ev­er, pro­cess­ing in­quiries like these may be time-con­sum­ing and cost mon­ey.

For less com­mon names in par­tic­u­lar, sim­ple search en­gine re­quests, ad­vanced search­es and the re­sult­ing at­tempts to es­tab­lish con­tact may re­veal peo­ple who have a par­tic­u­lar name. How­ev­er, this type of re­search is al­ways as­so­ci­at­ed with the risk of find­ing peo­ple who co­in­ci­den­tal­ly have the same name. The same is true when it comes to search­ing so­cial net­works.

If you know what coun­try the en­ti­tled heir cur­rent­ly lives in, mak­ing con­tact with the re­spec­tive em­bassy, where ap­pli­ca­ble, might yield re­sults.

By this stage at the lat­est, the pos­si­bil­i­ties for prove­nance re­search have been ex­haust­ed and, if ap­pli­ca­ble, the le­gal ad­vi­sor (le­gal of­fice or le­gal de­part­ment) of the body re­spon­si­ble for the in­sti­tu­tion is in­dis­pens­able.

Nowa­days, mak­ing con­tact per­son­al­ly with the pre­vi­ous own­er of a con­fis­cat­ed or stolen ob­ject is be­com­ing in­creas­ing­ly rare due to de­mo­graph­ic rea­sons. In most cas­es, any con­tact made to­day is with chil­dren, grand­chil­dren or oth­er de­scen­dants. Es­tab­lish­ing who the present-day fam­i­ly mem­bers are does not, how­ev­er, an­swer the ques­tion of whom the ob­ject should be resti­tut­ed to.

When doc­u­ment­ing the suc­ces­sors, you are most­ly re­liant on the as­sis­tance of the heirs them­selves (e.g. for the pro­vi­sion of in­for­ma­tion on branch­es of the fam­i­ly tree and the fate of fam­i­ly mem­bers). At this point, it is there­fore es­sen­tial to make ac­tive and di­rect con­tact with the prob­a­ble le­gal heirs be­cause re­search reach­es its lim­its here.

It is al­ways ad­vis­able for con­tact to be es­tab­lished with em­pa­thy and tact: there are cas­es where the de­scen­dants do not know about the ear­li­er per­se­cu­tion of their an­ces­tors, e.g. be­cause the Nazi pe­ri­od and the in­di­vid­u­al suf­fer­ing ex­pe­ri­enced as a re­sult, the dam­age and the loss of pos­ses­sions have re­mained de­lib­er­ate­ly hid­den with­in the fam­i­ly.

En­ti­tle­ment to claim is the ba­sic au­thor­i­ty to be able to as­sert claims. This en­ti­tle­ment is of fun­da­men­tal im­por­tance (see, for ex­am­ple, the Joint Dec­la­ra­tion, I).It is ob­tained through the clar­i­fi­ca­tion of suc­ces­sion or the re­con­struc­tion of the (present-day) com­mu­ni­ty of heirs with the help of wills, in­her­i­tance cer­tifi­cates, pow­ers of at­tor­ney, solemn dec­la­ra­tions or sim­i­lar doc­u­ments.

The claim, on the oth­er hand, is the spe­cif­ic right of a per­son, on an ap­pro­pri­ate ba­sis, to call for some­one else to do, or re­frain from do­ing, a speci­fi­able ac­tion, such as re­turn­ing an ob­ject con­fis­cat­ed as a re­sult of Nazi per­se­cu­tion. With re­gard to civ­il law, most claims for re­cov­ery of prop­er­ty are al­ready statute-barred, i.e. their (le­gal) as­ser­tion is no longer pos­si­ble to­day. Ac­cord­ing to Ger­man law, the per­son present­ly in pos­ses­sion of the ob­ject has al­so of­ten be­come the own­er. Spe­cial­ized lawyers should be con­sult­ed in the event of a dis­pute.

Al­so against this back­drop, par­tic­u­lar im­por­tance is at­tached to the non-legal­ly bind­ing Joint Dec­la­ra­tion, as on a moral and eth­i­cal lev­el—in the ab­sence of legal­ly en­force­able claims—it pur­sues the ob­jec­tive of re­turn or work­ing to­geth­er to reach fair and just so­lu­tions.

The Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion of­fers sup­port for steps 10 and 11:

Con­tact with the own­ers should be ini­ti­at­ed by the per­son in pos­ses­sion of the ob­ject (a con­nec­tion with the fam­i­ly has usu­al­ly al­ready been es­tab­lished to clar­i­fy suc­ces­sion, see step 8). Both sides—the present-day own­er and the le­gal heirs—should clar­i­fy by mu­tu­al agree­ment how to deal with the ob­ject con­cerned, to which the pre­vi­ous own­er was forced to give up his or her own­er­ship or pos­ses­sion.

resti­tu­tion ac­knowl­edges the claim of present-day heirs. If the cul­tur­al her­itage in­sti­tu­tion is in­ter­est­ed in reac­quir­ing the resti­tut­ed ob­ject, pos­si­bil­i­ties can sub­se­quent­ly be dis­cussed as to whether all or some of the pieces may re­main in the col­lec­tion and on what con­di­tions this may be pos­si­ble.

Sci­en­tif­ic and cul­tur­al in­sti­tu­tions (pub­lic or pri­vate) and pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als can be sup­port­ed by the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion in their ef­forts to find a fair and just so­lu­tion in line with the Wash­ing­ton Prin­ci­ples and the Joint Dec­la­ra­tion of the fed­er­al and state gov­ern­ments (see So­lu­tions sec­tion of the Lost Art Database, the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion’s pub­li­ca­tion se­ries or the pub­li­ca­tions of the Co­or­di­na­tion Cen­ter for Lost Cul­tur­al As­sets). How­ev­er, the Foun­da­tion does not car­ry out any re­turn or resti­tu­tion pro­ce­dures it­self, and does not pro­vide ad­vice in a le­gal ca­pac­i­ty.

If a fair and just so­lu­tion can­not be reached via the di­rect con­tact route or there are dif­fer­ences of opin­ion, it is ad­vis­able to lodge a re­quest for in­ter­ven­tion with the Ad­vi­so­ry Com­mis­sion.The re­quest for in­ter­ven­tion is lodged by the for­mer own­er and their heirs, to­geth­er with the in­sti­tu­tions or per­sons cur­rent­ly in pos­ses­sion of the cul­tur­al as­set, by mu­tu­al agree­ment.The Com­mis­sion works to­wards an am­i­ca­ble set­tle­ment be­tween the par­ties and does not make any legal­ly bind­ing rec­om­men­da­tions.

For information purposes, the German Lost Art Foundation records the restitutions and other just and fair so­lu­tions it becomes aware of regarding cultural property expropriated as a result of Nazi persecution in an internal directory.

The recorded restitutions do not only originate from public sources, but also include data that have been confidentially communicated by public and private institutions. Therefore, only a general number of restitutions that have become known to the German Lost Art Foundation is published.

However, in order to achieve the most complete documentation possible, we offer public and private museums, libraries and archives in Germany the opportunity to inform the Foundation via an online form about restitutions or other just and fair solutions in connection with cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution. Subsequent notifications of earlier restitutions can also be submitted via this form.