“I distinguish between Germans old enough to have played a role in the war, and the post-war generation.” Interview with David Toren (2016–17)
Aufnahme und Schätzung aller Kunstgegenstände, Antiquitäten, Gemälde, echter Teppiche etc. im Hause Ahornallee 27 zu Breslau 18. Besitzer: David Israel Friedmann wohnhaft daselbst. Zum Zeitwert. (Inventory and assessment of all works of art, antiques, paintings, real carpets, etc. at the premises Ahornallee 27 in Breslau 18. Owner: David Israel Friedmann, resident at said address. At current market value.), inventory (1940) from the file Administration Wrocław I/16886, Archiwum Państwowe we Wrocławiu, Wrocław, Poland
Letter from Cornelius Müller Hofstede to Hildebrand Gurlitt, August 28, 1942, MNWr., GD, II/206, k. 12, Gabinet Dokumentów, Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu, Wrocław, Poland
Christian Thee, Artfelt Gesture, Two Riders on a Beach (2014), Relief, acrylic foam, and acrylic paint on Masonite, Collection David Toren, Esquire
Text and interview with David Toren by Maria Eichhorn
Translation from German by Büro LS Anderson
The David Friedmann Inventory, Breslau
David Toren was a New York-based patent lawyer. He was born in Breslau in 1925 and died in New York in 2020. His parents were murdered at the Auschwitz extermination camp. Toren was brought to Sweden in a “Kindertransport” (children’s transport) and lived in Israel until he moved to the USA in 1954. The interview between Maria Eichhorn and David Toren was carried out by e-mail between May 2016 and April 2017. The interview focused on a list of objects, “Aufnahme und Schätzung aller Kunstgegenstände, Antiquitäten, Gemälde, echter Teppiche etc. im Hause Ahornallee 27 zu Breslau 18. Besitzer: David Israel Friedmann wohnhaft daselbst. Zum Zeitwert.” (Inventory and assessment of all works of art, antiques, paintings, real carpets, etc., at the premises Ahornallee 27 in Breslau 18. Owner: David Israel Friedmann, resident at said address. At current market value.), provided to Maria Eichhorn by Toren. This ten-page document is the catalog of the entire inventory of the residence of David Friedmann—Toren’s great-uncle—in the city of Breslau, then in the German province of Silesia, now the city of Wrocław in present-day Poland. The inventory not only includes everyday items, such as watches, vases, and teapots, but also works of art by Camille Pissarro, Lovis Corinth, and Gustave Courbet. On page six of the document, there is an entry for the painting Zwei Reiter am Strand (Two Riders on the Beach, 1901)—listed here as Reiter am Meere (Riders at the Sea)—by Max Liebermann. The list was prepared on January 24, 1940, “by order of the District President of Breslau.” Cornelius Müller Hofstede, in his capacity as executive director of the Silesian Museum of Fine Arts in Breslau, was informed of the inventory list; on June 28, 1941, he noted by hand on the first page: “Returned to Senior Official Westram with thanks, after noting the listed paintings.”
In March 1941, David Friedmann was forced to vacate his house. He died in February 1942. His daughter Charlotte was deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp on March 30, 1942 and was sent to Auschwitz in October 1942, where she was murdered on October 9. The entire estate of Charlotte and David Friedmann was confiscated by the Regional Financial Office of Lower Silesia, the authority responsible for “Aryanization.”
On May 12, 1942, Müller Hofstede offered to sell two works by Max Liebermann previously owned by Friedmann to the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt: Korbflechter (Basket Weavers, 1900) and Two Riders on the Beach. Following an auction in July 1942, both works ended up in the possession of the Silesian Museum of Fine Arts in Breslau. On August 28, 1942, Müller Hofstede reiterated his offer of sale to Gurlitt.
In 1945, Two Riders on the Beach, along with a portion of Gurlitt’s collection, was confiscated by the Allies and stored at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point. In 1950, it was returned to Gurlitt on the basis of false testimony. The painting was exhibited on several occasions as part of the Gurlitt collection during the 1950s. In 2012, it was confiscated by the Bavarian authorities in Munich, following the discovery of what became known variously as the “Munich Art Hoard” or the “Schwabing Art Trove.” In 2014, the governmental taskforce set up to investigate the “Schwabing Art Trove” classified the picture as Nazi-looted art. The following year, it was returned to David Toren, Friedmann’s great-nephew, and subsequently auctioned at Sotheby’s in London.
In 2014, the artist Christian Thee made a relief based on Liebermann’s painting (Artfelt Gesture, Two Riders on the Beach) and gave it to Toren, who had gone blind in old age, so that he could experience the picture by touch.
David Toren’s son Peter J. Toren and the Rose Valland Institute are actively searching for works of art and other objects from David Friedmann’s list. Toren offers a reward of 10% of the value of a work if it is successfully returned. Please send any information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I distinguish between Germans old enough to have played a role in the war, and the post-war generation.” Interview with David Toren
Maria Eichhorn: In a recent interview you said: “I have a suspicion that Cornelius Müller Hofstede’s family has some of these paintings.”1 Do you know which paintings these are?
David Toren: No! I have no idea. I only know that Cornelius Müller Hofstede received many paintings from the Gestapo, which the Gestapo had stolen from my uncle. Müller Hofstede sold two of these paintings to Hildebrand Gurlitt.
ME: You went on to say: “For example, there is a letter from him [Müller Hofstede] to Hildebrand Gurlitt, in which he offers to sell him two works by Max Liebermann.”2 Do you have this letter? If you do, could you send it to me?
DT: The letter is attached in the e-mail.
ME: You then continue: “After the war, instead of being sent to jail, he [Müller Hofstede] got another good job, as director of the Gemäldegalerie in West Berlin. I suspect that he took certain paintings with him when he fled Breslau, and these may be in the possession of his heirs. I don’t understand it.”3 Have you already tried to research the identity and whereabouts of these paintings? Do you know anything more about them? How could we go about locating them?
DT: I think the best solution would be to go to his daughter’s house and study what’s on the walls. Otherwise, I have no suggestions.
ME: You were a patent lawyer and you often traveled on business to Germany from the 1960s onwards. You say in another interview: “But there is still a particular atmosphere in this country, which has never gone away.”4 Could you describe that atmosphere in more detail?
DT: I had many encounters with German lawyers, especially those old enough to have played a part in the war. I see no reason why I should tell you all this in detail. Between 1960 and 2005, I traveled to Germany twenty-eight times. I had over 250 German clients, mostly other patent lawyers, but also a few direct clients, large companies with their own patent departments. Why do you want to know all this? I suggest you read Catherine Hickley’s book, The Munich Art Hoard: Hitler’s Dealer and His Secret Legacy (2015). The first chapter mainly describes my background.
ME: Adam Szymczyk has invited me to take part in documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel, and I am conducting research for my artistic work, which addresses questions of unlawful possession of art looted by the Nazis. Taking my exhibitions Restitutionspolitik / Politics of Restitution (2003) at the Lenbachhaus in Munich and In den Zelten ... (2015) at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin as starting points, my work for documenta 14 addresses ownership and property relations, with reference to still-unreturned property stolen from Jewish owners under the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. This includes artworks, land, real estate, financial assets, companies, movable property, ideas and academic work, patents, etc.5
My work consists of founding an institute dedicated to these issues, which will actively attempt to clarify these kinds of questions of ownership. My question about you describing a “certain atmosphere in this country, which has never gone away,” is based on my sense that you mean an atmosphere of concealment, of hiding, of secrecy. Am I right in thinking that? Where does this atmosphere come from? Concealment and secrecy still hinder the discovery of artworks and other items belonging to the heirs of Jewish collectors.
DT: I distinguish between Germans old enough to have played a role in the war, and the post-war generation, who merely learned something about the Nazis in school.
To answer your specific question, I will tell you about my first negative experience with an old German. On my first visit to Germany after the war, around 1960, I visited the patent lawyer of a large chemical firm in the Ruhr area. The man was quite old and courteous, but I noticed he was not particularly enthusiastic about my visit. He told me he had been in Dresden when the famous RAF air raid destroyed half the city (see Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969). The next morning, he said, there were around 40,000 bodies in the city, which were then loaded onto rail trucks to be taken to a town quite nearby, Auschwitz, where there were crematoria, and where the bodies were then cremated. “And then,” he said, “they claim that all the Jews were burned there.”
In response I told him, as far as I knew, there were very few railway cars available at the end of the war, and, the question is where would they have gotten the two or three hundred railway cars that they would need to transport 40,000 corpses? The later generation of Germans would not tell that kind of story.
By the way, the patent lawyer was also a thief, because when he said goodbye to me, he gave me a list of postage stamps which he had identified by catalog numbers and which I was supposed to buy for him in New York. “Some of these stamps are quite expensive, but I’m sure you know of a way. Just add them to your fee: I’m the one who authorizes the invoices anyway.” This gentleman never received a single stamp from me, and he died of a heart attack a month later.
ME: During Nazi rule, the Germans not only stole land, real estate, artworks, financial assets, home furnishings, etc., but they also took patents from Jewish researchers and scientists. As a patent lawyer, did you work on any cases like that? If so, could you name some?
ME: You mentioned Müller Hofstede’s letter to Hildebrand Gurlitt, in which he offers to sell him two works by Max Liebermann. You kindly sent me a copy of the letter. I would like to include the original in the exhibition. Do you know in which archive the original is located and where we might borrow it for the exhibition? Do you have any other documents connected with your great-uncle’s collection, which we could exhibit along with the interview and the relief?
DT: I have no idea where the original of Müller Hofstede’s letter is. However, you could add the following to the interview:
I have discovered that the Berlin auction house Villa Grisebach is in the habit of selling art looted by the Nazis and that in fact the Berlin public prosecutor has made inquiries into this matter. My fifth column (a WWII-phrase, referring to spies) discovered that the auction house had sold Liebermann’s painting Basket Weavers for 130,000 German marks in 2000. They refused to tell me the names of the sellers and buyers. I discovered that the seller was Hildebrand Gurlitt’s daughter, and the buyer was an Israeli. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published two articles about the case, hoping that the buyer would reveal his identity. He did so indirectly: I was contacted by an Israeli lawyer who represented the buyer. We are currently negotiating the conditions under which the painting will be returned to me. Villa Grisebach also sold a painting by Franz Skarbina that was included on the inventory of my uncle’s collection. I don’t know anything about the seller or the buyer. There is an ongoing lawsuit against Villa Grisebach, a so-called “request for information” lawsuit. I am demanding a court order forcing Villa Grisebach to disclose the names of both seller and buyer to me. I am not only suing the parent company in Berlin but also their New York office, which makes it easier for me to proceed with the case, which is still ongoing.
In addition, we also discovered that a painting by Walter Leistikow is hanging in a museum in a Polish city whose name I can’t pronounce: Before the war it was called Bromberg. The Polish museum told me that they acquired the painting from a “trustworthy source.” The fact is that the painting was originally held by an art museum or gallery in Mannheim. I am attaching a letter from the Kunsthalle Mannheim, which you may be interested in.
I am in the process of discovering the names of Gestapo officials in Breslau in 1941, the year when my uncle’s collection was confiscated. In this context, I am sending you a copy of a letter from Dr. Sabine Dumschat of the German Federal Archive in Berlin, in which she informs me about which organizations may have the information I am looking for. I will continue to pursue this issue, but I have no further substantive information as yet. In addition, I am sending you a link to an article on two exhibitions, one in Bonn and one in Bern, which may also be of interest.
P.S. You could also write to Ulrike Knöfel at the magazine Der Spiegel. She may know where to find the original letter by Müller Hofstede.
ME: Thank you for the postscript to our interview, and for the letters. Do let me know if you locate the list of Gestapo members. Of course, that would be a list of potential looters (with heirs possibly still in possession of artworks belonging to your great-uncle). The list would be an interesting addition to the inventory list and this interview.
DT: As of last week, we are in possession of fifty-three pages with the names of a total of 242 Gestapo members in Breslau. However, I have also signed a number of forms, which could be interpreted to mean that I cannot pass on these pages to third parties. If you are interested in these names, I suggest you get in touch directly with the Bundesarchiv (Federal Archive) in Ludwigsburg.
The painting Basket Weavers, no. 252 in the inventory, is already in Washington. We signed a contract with the lawyer of the buyer which releases the work. We still do not know the name of the buyer.
1 “‘Die Suche geht weiter’: Interview mit David Toren von Amelia Wischnewski,” Art: Das Kunstmagazin, March 2016, 63–65.
4 Maximilian Hofmann and Susanne Lenz-Gleißner: “David Toren: ‘Ich will mein Erbe zurück,’” Deutsche Welle, April 1, 2014, www.dw.com/de/david-toren-ich-will-mein-erbe- zurück/a-17533678.
5 Title 18 (“Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives”) of the Military Government Regulations, issued in August 1945 by US Forces, European Theater USFET, states that all objects acquired by the Germans within Germany or in occupied territories after January 1933, regardless of whatever considerations may have been involved, were to be regarded as looted art if obtained either a) directly through confiscation, expropriation, or plundering, or b) indirectly through purchase or other transactions. All cultural assets that the Nazis acquired were regarded without exception as stolen, regardless of whether or not contracts of sale had been concluded.