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CULTURE & HERITAGE - Culture & History

Works of art stolen by the Nazis: compromising notebooks . . . .

44 notebooks were discovered in an auction house. They contain a list of works confiscated during the war, as well as the names of their buyers!
The Weinmüller auction house flourished during the war thanks to the art works confiscated from German Jewish families.
Photo ©Martin Bureau / AFP

Source: Le Point.fr – published 30 April 2013
Article written by Philippe Sprang

Pandora’s box was opened in a well-known auction house. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung broke the story in Germany on 18th March.  While looking through a cupboard in the offices of the Neumeister auction house, an employee chanced upon 44 small forgotten notebooks. These were catalogues detailing sales that had been organised between 1936 and 1945 by Weinmüller, a Munich institution which had prospered during the war thanks to the works of art stolen from German Jewish families as part of the forced sale and Aryanisation of property. Everybody had assumed that these documents, listing the names of buyers, had been destroyed. In fact they had remained hidden.

Between 1936 and 1945, Weinmüller organised 33 sales in which 34500 objects were sold. The names of buyers and sellers were written down and catalogues annotated, a veritable mine of information.  In any case, sufficient information to unveil what had happened to many collections, among which the one belonging to the architect Ernst God Help. It was confiscated and then sold on by Weinmüller in Vienna in 1939. For example the Young Girl in a straw Hat by Friedrich von Amerling was among the paintings. It was returned by the Belvedere Museum last year.

Martin Bormann is listed among the clients

Adolf Weinmüller, who started his career as an art dealer in Munich in 1921, joined the Nazi party ten years later. He was president of the society of dealers in art and antiquities, which was renamed in 1933 “The Reich Department for visual Arts”. At the same time the 3rd Reich passed various laws designed to exclude Jews from the art trade. Many Jewish owned companies were “Aryanised”, notably the leading Munich auction house Hugo Helbing, which Weinmüller bought in 1936 when Helbing lost their trading licence. Weinmüller acquired another auctioneer in Vienna in the same manner. He profited from Nazism.

His business flourished as he took advantage of the disappearance of his major Jewish competitors and the arrival on the market of numerous works of art put up for sale by people about to go into exile or originating from Jewish Aryanised properties and also from forced sales. Weinmüller counted Martin Bormann among his clients as well as Maria Almas Dietrich, a dealer in Hitler’s inner circle. At the end of the war, during the denazification process, he was only categorised as “collaborator”, and restarted his business in 1948. He sold out to Rudolph Neumeister ten years later before his death.

Katrin Stoll, who took over the family business in 2008, signed an agreement with the Central Historical Institute designed to throw light on Weinmüller’s activities during the war. This task was entrusted to the historian Meike Hopp who published her work last year. In any event, the owner of Neumeister announced that the contents of the 44 notebooks would be made public and invited other auction houses to do the same with catalogues of that period.

Whose turn is it now? In France the records of sales, names of buyers and details of transactions, may be published only after 75 years, so that there is no access to the period 1939 – 45 without some sort of special dispensation.