In the wake of the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, the German federal government, the federal states and the national associations of local authorities issued a common statement on returning cultural assets which were confiscated through Nazi persecution, and this was followed more recently by the Terezin Declaration. Consequently, the organisations in charge of publicly funded memory institutions have pledged to make particular efforts to research the provenance of their holdings from the Nazi era. The Herzog August Bibliothek is doing its part in upholding this obligation by undertaking the current project, which seeks to find out more about objects in its collections that were confiscated by the Nazi regime.

The completed project ‘Assets looted by the Nazis among the antiquarian holdings acquired by the Herzog August Bibliothek since 1969’ (2020–22), which focused on what is known as ‘secondary plunder’, marked the beginning of our systematic investigation of this complex issue. Our current project continues the structured review of the Herzog August Bibliothek’s holdings aimed at uncovering possible instances of confiscated works. It sets out to evaluate the books acquired by the library during the Nazi era and the immediate post-war years (c.14,000 sequentially numbered items for the years 1933 to 1949), while also completing the investigation of the antiquarian books that entered the main collection (c.8,200 individual prints and printed works acquired between 1950 and 1969). This undertaking is bolstered by what is deemed to be an urgently required survey of the holdings of two special collections (the Artists’ Books Collection: c.350 objects; and the Ernst Pepping Collection: c.2,300 individual prints and printed works). In accordance with the Washington Principles and the Common Statement and in close cooperation with the legitimate owners, any objects that are found in the course of the project to have been confiscated during the Nazi era should be restituted where possible – failing that, another equitable and fair solution should be found.

The project is supported by the German Lost Art Foundation. The research findings are being documented on an ongoing basis in the local library catalogue or the GVK Common Union Catalogue. Should there be substantiated suspicion of Nazi looted assets, these will also be documented in the Lost Art object database and the Proveana research database run by the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste (German Lost Art Foundation).

Funding: Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste
Duration: December 2022 – November 2024
Project participants: Dr Johannes Mangei (project lead), Dr. Stephan Bialas-Pophanken (team member), Antonia Reck (research assistant)