Rose Valland Institute


Open Call: Unlawful Ownership in Germany


[First published and sent through the documena 14 newsletter on June 5, 2017 (in English, German, and Greek).]



The Rose Valland Institute is an artistic project by Maria Eichhorn within the context of documenta 14. The Institute presented itself publicly for the first time in March 2017 with a call for papers focusing on the topic of Orphaned Property in Europe.


With the open call on the issue of Unlawful Ownership in Germany, the Rose Valland Institute continues its activities. The public is invited to research Nazi looting of inherited property and to submit the findings to the Rose Valland Institute.


The Rose Valland Institute is an independent interdisciplinary artistic project. It researches and documents the expropriation of property formerly owned by Europe’s Jewish population and the ongoing impact of those confiscations. The Institute is named after art historian Rose Valland, who secretly recorded details of Nazi looting during the German occupation of Paris. After the war, she worked for the Commission de Récupération Artistique (Commission for the Recovery of Works of Art) and played a decisive role in the restitution of Nazi-looted artworks.


Building on insights gained from Maria Eichhorn’s previous exhibition projects Restitutionspolitik / Politics of Restitution (2003) and In den Zelten … (2015), the Rose Valland Institute is devoted to the issue of unresolved property and ownership relationships from 1933 through the present. The Institute investigates fundamental questions about the ownership of artworks, land, real estate, assets, businesses, movable objects and artifacts, libraries, and scientific works and patents that were unlawfully stolen from Jewish citizens in Germany and occupied territories during the Nazi era and that have not been returned to this day.


The Rose Valland Institute was founded on the occasion of documenta 14 and will be headquartered in the Neue Galerie in Kassel from June 10 through September 17, 2017.



Confiscated and Stolen Property


Culture and politics, then, belong together because it is not knowledge or truth which is at stake, but rather judgment and decision, the judicious exchange of opinion about the sphere of public life and the common world, and the decision what manner of action is to be taken in it, as well as to how it is to look henceforth, what kind of things are to appear in it.

Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis in Culture: Its Social and its Political Significance”, in Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought, (New York, Viking Press: 1968), p. 223.


The Gurlitt case, widely publicized in 2013, made it clear to everyone who had not been aware of the fact that stolen art and other property seized from Jewish owners during the Holocaust can still be found, more than 70 years later, not only among the holdings of the German state (in public collections and museums), but also in private hands. The acts of injustice committed by Germans, the ostracism, disenfranchisement, expropriation, deportation, and murder of the Jewish population in Germany and in Europe were recalled to our collective and cosmopolitan memory by the discovery of Cornelius Gurlitt’s hidden hoard of stolen art in Munich.


A work of art can also be considered “hidden” when its illegitimate owners omit, conceal, mask, or remove evidence of a work’s provenance. A picture hung on a wall, furniture in a living room, a bracelet on a wrist, real estate, or books in a library are all things that might have been stolen from their rightful owners. A fact that is not expunged if these possessions have been passed on from generation to generation, becoming part of German family property.


Seized and looted Jewish property was publicly auctioned by German financial authorities of the Nazi state and thus dispersed among the entire German population. Furniture and household goods seized from Jewish emigrants from all over Germany who passed through the port of emigration in Hamburg were auctioned off as well as Jewish property seized in the “Möbel Aktion” (Operation Furniture) in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, etcetera.


In 1942 in Hamburg alone, forty-five shiploads of goods looted from Dutch Jews arrived; they represented a net weight of 27,227 tons. Approximately 100,000 inhabitants acquired some of the stolen belongings at harbor auctions.

Saul Friedländer, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939–1945, (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), p. 500.


In order to profit materially, the German population readily participated in the auctions. Auction records have been preserved in state archives; these documents detail what objects were seized from which Jewish citizen, at what price they were acquired and by whom.



The Rose Valland Institute


Why do those who have been looted have to attempt to retrieve their possessions, instead of the looters having to locate those robbed in order to return the loot to its rightful owners?


The Rose Valland Institute seeks to create public awareness for unresolved property and ownership questions since the Nazi era. It calls for active participation in the resolution of continued injustice and the discovery and disclosure of unlawful possession. The Institute is a point of contact for individuals and groups who want to confront these questions.


The task of the Institute is to research Nazi-looted goods in the possession of German families and private individuals—an area of research that encompasses all of German society and that is not yet embedded in public consciousness. The extensive plundering and transfer of Jewish property to subsequent generations should be reappraised—with the aim of initiating a broad social debate. Just as “normal” Germans profited, their heirs should be moved to acknowledge and research these personal gains resulting from illegitimate possession. The Institute is intended as a place for discussion and knowledge-generation for and by private individuals and academics. This new knowledge is documented, archived, and the return of assets or other forms of restitution, if the rightful owner cannot be located, is initiated.


The Institute is a transitory space where artworks, land, real estate, assets, businesses, moveable objects and artifacts, libraries, scientific works and patents that were unlawfully acquired, or are suspected to have been unlawfully acquired, can be brought to light and their origins and state of documentality can be analyzed.



Open Call Unlawful Ownership in Germany


Unlawful Ownership in Germany is an open call for the sharing of information with the Rose Valland Institute about objects, land, real estate, etcetera that is or could be Nazi-looted in order to jointly clarify ownership and property rights.


The Rose Valland Institute will individually record the objects’ histories of origin. The sought and/or found objects will be displayed and documented in detail. In cooperation with provenance researchers, additional investigations will be commissioned and case studies will be published.


The following questions may be relevant for the research into provenance:


– Based on which memories, notes, narrations, communications, knowledge, and documents, such as photographs or letters or other written and oral testimonies, was the object identified as Nazi loot?


– What documents, papers, and other evidence support the suspicion or assumption?


– Who is in possession of such documents and certificates or where are they located?


– Are you prepared to publish your knowledge and information?


– Have you tried to find any claimants? Could you find legitimate owners or heirs? If you tried, how did you proceed?


– How would you describe your relationship to the object in question?


– Do you know the historical context and background that led to the object being in your possession today?


– Do you see the object/item as a witness to these relationships?


– Are you ready to allow the object to thus bear witness in a public discourse?


Located: If you know of objects in your possession or family property that can be assumed or proven to be illegally owned Jewish property, please contact the Rose Valland Institute.


Missing: If you are looking for items that can be presumed or proven to have been stolen from a Jewish family, please contact the Rose Valland Institute.


You can contact the Rose Valland Institute at:

Communications are treated confidentially and will be anonymized upon request.


The Rose Valland Institute and documenta 14 kindly request the media to publish this open call.