23 March 2011

Updates on the ERR database of art objects looted in German-occupied France

by Marc Masurovsky

This is the first of a series of updates on additions and changes made to the database of art objects looted in German-occupied France and Belgium by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR).  Most of the objects in this database, which can be found at www.errproject.org/jeudepaume, were processed through the Jeu de Paume in downtown Paris.  Once processed, they were either shipped to the Reich, sold on the art market, or set aside to be 'destroyed.'

Background

The database was officially released to the general public on October 18, 2010, as a project underwritten by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims against Germany and technically supported by programmers working for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC.  The project itself began in 2005.  Core data from 20,000 cards typed up by ERR staff between 1940 and 1944 were digitized into the database.  Scanned images of the cards were attached to each dataset and, where available, photographs of the objects were also linked to the individual datasets.

The project resumed in 2009 after a hiatus of several years.  For technical reasons, it was parked at the USHMM in Washington, DC.  There, I supervised the effort, largely staffed by enthusiastic volunteers from a dozen or so countries scattered over three continents.  Fortunately, the ERR database project, as it was known, lends itself perfectly to such a decentralized structure since it is web-based and all updates could be done from very remote locations.

Since the release of the database, there has been a crying need for updates to the data now available for everyone to see and scrutinize.  Since the purpose of the database is to provide a wartime and, when possible, a postwar history of the stolen objects, it becomes essential to ascertain whether or not these objects were found, and returned to their rightful owners.  That information resides in the archives of the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Paris, France--also known as the Ministere des affaires etrangeres.  These records, in a discreet record group referred to as the Fonds Rose Valland, are located at the new archival repository of the Courneuve in the northern suburbs of Paris.  This archive contains the restitution files of the families and individuals whose objects were confiscated and taken to the Jeu de Paume for 'processing.'  In most instances, we can verify if the objects in the database correspond to the objects mentioned in these restitution families.  That is not always the case, but the world is a very imperfect place.

The restitution information is now being added to the database, an effort that will be on-going for months to come.

Part of this blog will be devoted, therefore, to indicate which parts of the database have been updated so that you can consult the records as you see fit.