09 April 2011

ERR database—Frederic Unger collection (U)

I went over the items seized by the ERR from Frederic Unger, an Austrian citizen from Vienna who had left his home town in the wake of the Anschluss in late 1938 and headed to Paris, France. He had shipped his liftvans to a storage facility on the outskirts of the French capital and from there had emigrated to the United States. The liftvans never crossed the Atlantic Ocean. They remained in Paris, held hostage by the war effort. Eventually, the German Army rolled into France like in a wad of butter and by mid-June 1940, half of France was occupied as was all of Belgium and Holland.

The ERR seized the liftvans and removed their contents.

The contents of the liftvans arrived at the Jeu de Paume at some point in 1942 and some--not all--were inventoried in October 1942.

The ERR staff at the Jeu de Paume dutifully typed up a set of 44 cards which describe mostly paintings and works on paper seized from Mr. Unger's crates.

As I perused through the items, I realized that there were gaps in the numerical sequence established by the ERR personnel. I checked the inventories against the cards and noted the gaps in the sequences.

There were 6 items that the ERR had not carded. Half of them were designated as 'vernichtet' or slated for destruction including a work that he or one of his kin had penned. Whether or not they were destroyed, I know not.

Many of Mr. Unger's items were eventually shipped to a castle in the former Czechoslovakia in a town called Nikolsburg or Mikulov for our Czech friends. The town of Nikolsburg had been annexed by the Nazis and incorporated into the Reich. The castle, as it should, stood on a hill overlooking the city. It was designated as a depot by the ERR leadership in Berlin to store many items stolen in France from Jews and others as well as items from Belgium. Trainloads of crates reached Nikolsburg from France and Belgium from the fall of 1943 to the spring of 1944. Mr. Unger's paintings and works on paper were shipped from Paris on November 15, 1943.

Out of that group, some Unger items found their way to a castle in Bavaria called Neuschwanstein which served as one of the ERR's oldest and most important depots for French Jewish confiscated collections. Neuschwanstein is the famous castle built by mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

I had to re-adjust the information on Frederic Unger's collection to note that about one-third of his items had not reached Neuschwanstein before American troops discovered a small number of crates marked 'Unger' or 'U' together with thousands of other looted objects. They were all eventually shipped through Munich to Paris to be returned to their rightful owners. The present location of the missing items remains unknown. As a result, the database shows them as not having been restituted.

The final exercise for Mr. Unger's property will involve cross-checking his restitution records with information in the database so as to indicate precisely which items were returned to him and on what date. The most complex aspect of this task will involve those items that were sent to the Jeu de Paume by the ERR but were neither carded nor inventoried. All we have are crate numbers and descriptions but we don't know for certain whether they in fact transited through the Jeu de Paume Museum, the main triage and selection facility for looted art in downtown Paris between October 1940 and August 1944.

For more details, go to http://www.errproject.org/jeudepaume.