Between 1945 and 1949, there existed in the Wiesbaden Museum building complex a Central Collecting Point (CCP) for cultural assets administered by the US Military Government. The CCP’s collection included primarily items from German museums that had been evacuated to protect them from war damage, but also stolen artworks and objects from private collections whose rightful owners had to be determined and, if possible, reunited with their property.
In contrast to other cities in Hesse, Wiesbaden had suffered relatively minor damage during the Second World War. The museum building, that had been used by the German Luftwaffe during the war, was still intact and, according to Walter I. Farmer’s report, was initially used as accommodation for displaced persons and for storing clothing.
But how did this accommodation for the homeless become a collecting point for cultural assets? The reasons for choosing the museum have not been precisely documented. One can only surmise that—aside from Wiesbaden’s proximity to Frankfurt am Main, where artworks were accumulating in the Reichsbank (to include the Berlin collections that had been preserved in the Merkers salt mines)— Wiesbaden’s urban infrastructure, the museum’s almost undamaged condition, and its suitability for storing artworks also played a role.
After the end of the war, the US Military Government had transferred its headquarters, including a large number of civilian and military units, to Wiesbaden. In June of 1945, it had the museum building evacuated in order to accommodate the future CCP. War damage to the windows and roof was repaired in readiness for arrival of the first shipment of artworks in mid-August of 1945. The Military Government department responsible for this operation was the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section (MFA & A). The first director of the Wiesbaden CCP was the architect and art conservation officer Walter I. Farmer. His most important staff member was his interpreter Renate Hobrik, who also assumed administrative responsibilities. As they sorted, registered, and catalogued the artworks, the staff members wrote the letters “WIE” and a one- to five-digit number in red chalk on the back of each picture. Sometimes whole crates of artworks were given a single number, and when the works were unpacked, often only later, they each received a supplementary number added after a forward slash.1
Besides the Berlin collections, including the renowned head of Nefertiti, many other famous museum collections were stored in the corridors, cellars, and galleries of the Wiesbaden Museum, among others those of the Cologne Wallraf-Richartz Museum and the Frankfurt museums, as well as the Mainz Museum painting collection and the Kunsthalle Karlsruhe collection. There were also private collections that had to be examined to establish, or to rule out, expropriation as a result of National Socialist persecution. These included the Wilhelm Ettle and Hildebrand Gurlitt collections. In August 1946, the remaining stock of the disbanded Marburg Collecting Point was also absorbed, such that at its height the Wiesbaden CCP stored almost 700,000 objects in the museum.2
Walter I. Farmer (June 1945 to March 1946) was followed as director of the Wiesbaden CCP by Edith A. Standen (March to December 1946), Francis W. Bilodeau (December 1946 to April 1947), and Theodore A. Heinrich (April 1947 to July 1948). They were supported by a mostly German staff, that had worked at the museum before the American occupation and continued to do so afterwards.
It was planned to present the artworks stored in Wiesbaden to the public in a series of exhibitions. The first, an Exhibition of German owned old Masters, opened in February 1946 and besides the Guelph Treasure presented works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Dürer. When the exhibition opened, the Wiesbadener Kurier wrote: “The guns have fallen silent, and the Muses can raise their voices once again.”3 The exhibition attracted very many visitors and was intended to signal a cultural new start. Nine further exhibitions followed in the short time that the CCP was housed in the museum building. In 1946, the CCP presented exhibitions of Masterworks of northern art before 1600, Old Master Drawings, and Christmas Pictures. In the following year, there were exhibitions on German Paintings of the nineteenth Century and Eighteenth Century Paintings. In 1948, the Haubrich Collection, a Rembrandt Exhibition, and Returned Masterworks I were shown, followed by Returned Masterworks II in 1949 (see also the Wiesbaden Manifesto).
It was intended to disband the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point after the cultural assets had been returned to their rightful owners. In 1949, the objects still remaining in the Wiesbaden Museum were handed over to the Hessian Ministry of Culture in administrative trust, though the Allies continued to process artworks of uncertain provenance. On 1 July 1951, the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point was wound up and trusteeship for the remaining objects transferred to the Federal Republic of Germany. To this day some of these objects remain in the Federal Republic’s custody since their lawful owners still have not been traced.4
Bernsau, Tanja: Die Besatzer als Kuratoren? Der Central Collecting Point Wiesbaden als Drehscheibe für einen Wiederaufbau der Museumslandschaft nach 1945 [The Occupiers as Curators? The Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point as Hub for a Reconstruction of the Museum Landscape after 1945], Münster 2013.
Farmer, Walter I., Die Bewahrer des Erbes. Das Schicksal deutscher Kulturgüter am Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges [The Safekeepers: Memoir of the Arts at the End of World War II], Berlin 2002.
1 See Leitfaden Provenienzforschung, Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste [Guidelines for Provenance Research, German Centre for Lost Cultural Property], Berlin 2019, pp. 50-52.
2 See Records concerning the Central Collecting Point (Ardelia Hall Collection) Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, 1945–1952 : National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC 2008, p. 2. https://www.archives.gov/files/research/microfilm/m1947.pdf (retrieved 14.07.2023).
3 Kunstschätze aus drei Jahrtausenden. Zur Eröffnung der Ausstellung Alte Meister in deutschem Besitz [Art treasures from three millennia: on the opening of the exhibition German-owned Old Masters], in: Wiesbadener Kurier, 13.02.1946, quoted in Bernsau, 2013, p. 256.
4 See Kunstverwaltung des Bundes, Kulturgüter aus Reichsbesitz [Federal Art Administration, Cultural Assets from Former Reich Property].