Unknown Ownership

The term “unknown ownership” is used for objects that do not belong to the Foundation but whose provenance is uncertain. The Foundation tries to identify the legal owners of such objects and to return them.

Historical photograph of the painting “Equestrian Battle”

“Equestrian Battle” was moved to the storeroom of the Gemäldegalerie for safekeeping in 1945. In 2005 the work was returned to Russia after its origin was identified. © Gemäldegalerie, SMB / Jörg P. Anders

Unknown Ownership as a Legacy of the Second World War

The institutions of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) also hold cultural assets that are not the property of the Foundation and whose legal owners are not known or cannot be found. These objects are referred to as “of unknown ownership”. They are often cultural assets that their owners lost during the confusion of the Second World War. They were usually handed over by state offices to one of the institutions now part of the Foundation for safekeeping. Several of the objects ended up in the storage facilities of the Foundation when objects were evacuated for their protection during and after the war. In some cases, they are assets looted by the National Socialists.

There are also cases in which the Foundation’s institutions have lost touch with the lenders of long-term loans dating back to the prewar period. Because many files were destroyed during the chaos of war, often the Foundation cannot find out more about these objects through research of its own.

The Foundation’s Approach to Unknown Ownership

The Foundation aims to identify the rightful owners of such property. To that end, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) publish a series called Dokumentation des Fremdbesitzes (Documentation of Unknown Ownership). In these catalogs, the collections publish the objects in their holdings whose owners are unknown. The Foundation also publishes these works in the Lost Art Internet Database of the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste.

Institutions or private parties missing objects that may be in the possession of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz can report to the Foundation. It will check whether the applicants are indeed the rightful owners. If that is the case, the Foundation generally returns the objects to the owners. In some cases it signs a loan agreement with the owners so that the object can remain in its holdings.

Link for Additional Information

Press Releases

Press releases on individual cases of restitution are available in German only.