Searching for the Art Collection of "Jude Friedmann"
It all started back in 2005 when I received the second volume of the monumental publication “Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in Polnischen Archiven (Sources for Jewish History in Polish Archives)" edited by Stefi Jersch-Wenzel and published by the well-known publisher of scholarly works, K.G. Saur of Munich.
A large part of the volume was devoted to the description of records relating to Jews kept in the State Archives in Wroclaw, which, before 1945, as Breslau, was one of the major German cities and home to a large and vibrant Jewish community.
And there on page 22 was listed a file that immediately captured my attention: “Nr. I/9971 Juedischer Kunstbesitz (Works of Art owned by Jews)”. The detailed description of the file included the names of some well-known Jewish art collectors but there was also one, mentioned only as “Friedmann,” whom I could not find in any relevant publication. Intrigued, I ordered a copy of the file from the Wroclaw State Archives.
The very first document in the file I received was a copy of a letter sent in December 1939 by an Oberregirungsrat Dr. Westram, a high ranking official of the Breslau District Administration, to the Minister of Economics in Berlin. "In my district, and especially in the town of Breslau - wrote Dr. Westram - there still live Jews, who, thanks to their previously accumulated wealth, possess not insignificant art treasures, mostly paintings, antique furniture, genuine carpets, faience, silver utensils and ivory miniatures." But, complained Dr. Westram, the current laws did not enable him to confiscate the works of art owned by the Jews, some of which are of great pecuniary value outside Germany. As an example, he gave a “Jude Friedmann” of 27 Ahornallee in Breslau who had an extensive collection of art including works by Max Liebermann whose two paintings, Zwei Reiter am Strand and Krobflechter, were specifically mentioned. In order to ensure that no part of the collection was sold or taken out of the country, Dr. Westram arranged for an experienced art dealer to visit the Friedmann’s house and compile a detailed list of the collection.
But the list itself was not to be found in the file. Thinking it would be a proper turn of events to use the same list, which was created in order to rob Mr. Friedmann of his art collection, to have it now returned to his heirs, I decided to invest some effort to locate it.
First of all it was necessary to establish the full name of “Jude Friedmann”. I started by checking the 1940 address directory for Breslau and, indeed, among the many Friedmanns listed, I found one whose place of residence was 27 Ahornallee: David Friedmann, a pensioner. The 1939 German “Minority Census” provided additional details: David Friedmann, born in Rawitsch (today Rawicz in Poland) on 24 January 1857, died in Breslau on 15 February 1942.
I now returned to the “Quellen zur Geschite…” volume and carefully reviewed all the subsequent entries. David Friedmann was not mentioned again but I spotted a series of files numbered 16858 to 16936 and titled Enteignung der Juden (Expropriation of Jews) which looked relevant.
At this point I decided to see the files for myself, and thus in June 2015, I found myself in the reading room of the Wroclaw State Archives. The Enteignung files were arranged alphabetically and for each letter there was a file tied with a ribbon containing individual folders. The files were covered with some dust and it was quite obvious that I was the first user to open them since 1945. But when the F-file arrived on my desk I was already quite discouraged because all the previous ones dealt only with real estate. All this for nothing, I thought to myself. I untied the ribbon and opened the file and one of the very first folders there was titled “David Friedmann’s Art Collection”. And inside, exactly as written in Dr. Westram’s letter, there was a detailed handwritten inventory of David Friedmann’s art collection.
Today the items included in the inventory are listed in the Lost Art Database which museums all over the world use to check the provenance of their holdings. It also means that private holders of Friedmann’s works of art will find it almost impossible to sell them without the consent of his heirs.
(Written in March 2023)
David Friedmann's house at 27Ahornallee in Breslau (Source: Fotopolska.pl)
A page from the 1940 Breslau Address Directory showing all the Friedmann entries
The file containing the David Friedmann folder on my desk at the Wroclaw State Archives
The first and last pages of the inventory. The inventory was arranged by rooms in David Friedmann's house; the last page mostly devoted to his bedroom.