21TH August, 2019: Restitution - The Davidsohn Case

The Davidsohn Case

A.J. Daiwaille and Eugene Verboeckhoven, Farmhouses and Grazing Cattle, pre-1866, oil on canvas, 45,3 : 69,5 cm, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen Inv.No. 12212, © Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

On Monday, August 5, nine artworks (five paintings, three colour-prints, and a wood panel with ivory reliefs) were returned to the heirs of the original Jewish owners – the objects had been confiscated in Munich in 1938. Julius and Semaya Franziska Davidsohn had lost the artworks due to their persecution by the Nazis during World War II.

by Dr. Andrea Bambi, Director of the Provenance Research Department

Gestapo confiscation protocol und a copy of Semaya Franziska und Julius Davidsohn’s Kennkarte (basic identity document), February 1939 Gestapo confiscation protocol, 25.11.1938, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum Dokumentation, Dok.199, Map 3 © Bayerisches Nationalmuseum
Kennkarten (Stadtarchiv München, KKD-572, KKD-573) © Stadtarchiv München

From Art Theft to the Murder of Semaya Franziska and Julius Davidsohn

Confiscation in 1938

On 25 November 1938, five paintings, three colour-prints and a wood panel with ivory-reliefs were confiscated by the Secret State Police (Gestapo) in the couple’s apartment at Widenmayerstr. 45. While the art collection was being documented inside, outside of the apartment a furniture van was already waiting. The stolen objects were first brought to the Maximilianeum and subsequently, in 1940, offered for sale to the National Museums. Since no buyer could be found, they were then taken to salvage depots outside Munich when the war broke out.

As early as September 1939, the Davidsohns were expelled from their home and were subjected to severe enforced labour. Their final stop in Munich was the collection camp in Berg am Laim (in a wing of the Barmherzigen Schwestern convent) before being deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp on 16 July 1942. There, Julius Davidsohn was murdered on 11 August 1942, his wife Semaya Franziska Davidsohn on 24 April 1943.

Organised Looting in 1938 Munich

The Gestapo deployment and looting of the Davidsohn family were part of a wide-spread persecution of Jews and the systematic plundering of their possessions: only two weeks after the November Pogroms, the Gestapo confiscated around 2,500 items of cultural value from 70 Jewish households in Munich and the Munich hinterlands. Museum officials and members of the Munich art scene had explicitly informed the Gestapo of the locations of privately-owned works of art. This marked the beginning of one of the largest state-run art theft operations of the National Socialist era. In his book Raub von Kulturgut (in German), Jan Schleusener has for the first time documented how these events came about, the reasons and interests behind them, who profited from them, and how those involved and affected talked about them after the end of the war – or remained silent.

Two of the Five Restituted Paintings Otto Fedder, Stagecoach in the Mountains, around 1900, oil on millboard, 18 : 12,7 cm, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen Inv.No. 12213, © Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Ludwig Kandler, Farmer’s Wife with Headscarf, oil on cardboard, 41 : 35 cm, Inv.No. 12215, © Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

“Transfer from State Ownership” and Restitution

After the End of the War

The unlawfully confiscated art objects were taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point at Königsplatz. On behalf of the murdered couple, the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO) filed a claim for restitution in December 1948. In July 1952, the JRSO ceded its claim to the Bavarian State on basis of the compensation agreements between West Germany and eleven western European states, collectively known as the “Globalabkommen”. This is how the Bavarian state became responsible for the restitution in the case Davidsohn. In 1955, the artworks were transferred to the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen (5 paintings), the Bayerische Nationalmuseum (wooden panel with ivory reliefs) and the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München (3 colour-prints), where they have remained to this day.

The Search for Heirs 2016–2018

After the violent death of the couple, Semaya Franziska Davidsohn’s cousins were legally entitled to inherit. Two of these cousins survived the Holocaust in Germany. To flee persecution, another five cousins emigrated to England, the USA, Israel and to former Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe). With the help of a team of independent researchers, the search for their heirs lasted more than 2 years and could be concluded at the end of 2018.

The Restitution in 2019

On the basis of the Washington Principles and the Common Declaration of the Federal Republic of Germany, and based on the evident persecution-related loss outlined in the report of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, the Ministry of Science and the Arts advocated in May 2019 to restore the artworks to those who have a rightful claim to them today.

For further information regarding Provenance Research at the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen visit our website as well as the activity report of the Research Association for Provenance Research in Bavaria.