The Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung e.V. (Research Association for Provenance Research), founded in 2000,  is a network of researchers and experts—working principally in museums, libraries, archives, and the art trade, as well as in law, academia, and freelance professions—who investigate the provenance and unlawful expropriation of cultural assets. The Arbeitskreis was registered as a non-profit association in 2014. Its central tasks include providing professional support for provenance research in all fields of activity and fostering interdisciplinary exchange. The Arbeitskreis now has over 350 members in Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, and the USA.

The National Socialist coinage “aryanisation” refers to the process of expropriating the property of Jews—their companies, businesses, houses, real estate, stocks and shares, and cash assets—and transferring ownership to non-Jewish (in National Socialist jargon “aryan”) private individuals and firms, or to the state.


After the end of the Second World War, the military authorities of the western occupation zones set up collecting points in Germany to secure artworks and other cultural assets. There they assembled, identified, and registered the contents of German museums that had been evacuated during the war, as well as artworks looted in Germany and abroad. Just as does provenance research today, the collecting points attempted to determine the objects’ provenance and to return them to their lawful owners. In the American Zone of Occupation, there were four such Central Collecting Points: in Marburg (1945-46), Munich (1945-49), Offenbach (1946-1948) and Wiesbaden (1945-1951).

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.

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. (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].


Statement by the Federal Government, the Länder and the national associations of local authorities on the tracing and return of Nazi-confiscated art, especially Jewish property, December 1999

With their declaration on “tracing and returning cultural assets confiscated by the National Socialists, especially with regard to Jewish property” of December 1999 (the “Common Declaration”) the federal and state governments and national associations of local authorities committed themselves to putting into practice the Washington Declaration.


As a result of the discriminatory measures perpetrated by the National Socialists (beginning with the so-called “Jewish boycott” of 1 April 1933) people persecuted by the National Socialist regime were increasingly forced to emigrate abroad. For the most part, removal firms were commissioned to transport their relocation goods. The packing lists had to be submitted to the Gestapo, where they were examined by a bailiff and the value of the goods assessed—whereupon extortionate duties were levied on them. The so-called Lifts in which the relocation goods were forwarded had to be packed under supervision and then sealed. The removal firms were then responsible for bringing the crated goods by land, sea, or air to their destination. For the most part, however, they were stored for years with the removal firms. With the start of the Second World War in September 1939, no further Lifts were allowed to leave the country. Most of them were warehoused in such locations as Bremen and Hamburg harbours and were later publicly auctioned off by regional tax offices to the highest bidder. The income from this “processing” of emigrants’ property flowed into the coffers of the German Reich. Countless objects thus disappeared into museums, art galleries, libraries, and private collections.

In Wiesbaden the removal firm of L. Rettenmayer GmbH, founded in 1842, was one of the major players in the goods relocation business between 1933 and 1945. According to the firm, the relevant documents were destroyed in the war.

The London Declaration was the foundation of the allied occupation forces’ restitutionary regulations. The so-called Allied Declaration basically stated that all business dealings that had been conducted in and with the German Reich were declared null and void. This pertained above all to aryanisation measures and business liquidations but also included expropriation of property.


The Offenbach Archival Depot (OAD) was the main collecting point for stolen Jewish libraries, archives, and ritual objects. The American authorities located the OAD close to Frankfurt because its initial task was the restitution of the extensive stolen inventory of the National Socialist “Institute for Research on the Jewish Question”.  Compared with paintings, sorting and restoring book collections was immensely time-consuming. Until it was wound up in June of 1949, the Depot processed almost 5 million volumes originating from over 4,000 public and private libraries.


The history of an artwork can sometimes be determined from just a few provenance marks. These include inscriptions, labels, decals, and stamps on the reverse of the stretcher- or ornamental frame. They can provide clues as to previous owners, exhibitions, auctions, art galleries, donations, or sales. Sometimes provenance marks are removed accidentally—sometimes deliberately to conceal an object’s origins. Paintings yield provenance marks more often than do works on paper or three-dimensional objects. Once identified, provenance marks can serve as starting points for further research.

This day was first celebrated by the Research Association for Provenance Research in 2019 and has subsequently been held every year on the second Wednesday in April—the next occasion will be 10 April 2024. Provenance Research Day serves to acquaint a broader public with this field of research and those who work in it, and to inform people on the subject matter and methodology of provenance research.


In December 1998, 44 governments and 13 non-government organisations pledged themselves to uphold eleven principles regarding artworks looted by the National Socialists. These focussed on opening the archives, publishing the artworks, and searching for “fair and just solutions” with the heirs.

In the Wiesbaden Manifesto, art conservation officers of the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section reacted to an order of the US Military Government to prepare 202 artworks from Berlin museums, stored in the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, for shipment to the USA. They included works by Titian, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Cranach. The head of the Wiesbaden Collecting Point, Walter I. Farmer, saw this order as being in direct contradiction to his duties and goals as art conservation officer. He saw it as his responsibility to protect artworks and to return them to their rightful owners.

On 7 November 1945, 32 art conservation officers from the MFA&A stationed in Europe met together to draft the so-called Wiesbaden Manifesto. Eight of those present wrote individual statements and did not sign the manifesto. The latter included the following words: "We wish to state that, from our own knowledge, no historical grievance will rankle so long or be the cause of so much justified bitterness as the removal for any reason of a part of the heritage of any nation even if that heritage may be interpreted as a prize of war."

Besides the loss of a large part of Germany’s cultural heritage and a new cause of conflict in the short period of peace since the war, the art conservation officers cited the dangers of transporting the works to the USA: many sea mines still had not been cleared, and the paintings would be exposed to adverse climatic conditions during the crossing. They could not prevent the works from being transported to the USA, yet the publication of the manifesto and subsequent heated debate in the American press ensured that the matter was widely known, leading amongst other things to a large portion of the paintings being returned to the Wiesbaden CCP in April of 1948. The remaining paintings were presented in an exhibition that toured 13 American cities, before being returned to Wiesbaden in the spring of 1949. After their return to the Wiesbaden CCP, two exhibitions featuring returned masterpieces from the Berlin museums were staged. In recognition of his efforts to prevent the shipment, in 1996 Walter I. Farmer was awarded the Grand Cross for Distinguished Service of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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