Universitätsbibliothek der Freien Universität Berlin
Feb 01, 2022
The University Library of Freie Universität Berlin has known since the end of the 1980s that Nazi looted-property existed in the Library’s holdings. In the 1990s, there were individual cases of restitution to former legal owners or their heirs based on chance discovery. During the last 20 years, provenance research has been increasingly brought to public attention through a series of international political acts.
With the implementation of the Washington Principles of 1998, which were signed by Germany and many other countries, as well as the Common Statement (Gemeinsame Erklärung) as a national reaction to the Washington Declaration of 1999, a decisive course for research into Nazi-looted property was set for the first time at public institutions. These agreements are still the basis for provenance research in the Federal Republic of Germany on cultural objects in museums, archives, and libraries.
Establishment of the “Provenance Research Office”
In the context of these international developments, Freie Universität Berlin founded the Provenance Research Office in 2012 as a part of the University Library. This way, Freie Universität established sustainable, scientific research into the origin and changing ownership of stolen cultural assets in the Library’s holdings.
The aim of this work is to check the library holdings for looted books published before 1945 during the Nazi era (so-called Nazi-looted property). Books that had been confiscated by the Nazis should be identified, and every effort should be made to locate their pre-World-War-II owners or their heirs. Steps should be taken to achieve a just and fair solution for restitution.
The Provenance Research Office team examines the library holdings for indications of former owners. Those could be provenance traces like ex libris, stamps or signatures to identify the rightful owners. In addition to this systematic research, we also examine books before they are added to our holdings either in the course of regular acquisition or by donation. The research results and the provenances are documented in the Looted Cultural Assets (LCA) database, which are available to the public online.
Funding of research projects by German Lost Art Foundation (DZK)
The following research project applications, which take into account the special challenges of provenance research, have been approved:
- From 2014 to 2016, we realized the DZK-funded project "Provenance research into Nazi-confiscated cultural goods in the historic stock from 1952–1968 in the University Library at Berlin Freie Universität". In this project, approx. 70,000 volumes of the university library were systematically examined for provenance, NS looted property was identified and restitutions were realized.
- From 2021 to 2023, we will be involved in the DZK-funded project "Provenance research for cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution in the holdings of the Library of the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin (BGBM) in close cooperation with BGBM.
- A long-term project "Provenance research into Nazi-confiscated cultural property in the Judaic holdings of the University Library of the Freie Universität Berlin" for the examination of collection holdings has started in 2022.
Freie Universität Berlin
Provenance Research Office
Tel.: +49(30) 838 71764