Art dealership Mozes Mogrobi
Recommendation regarding the application for the restitution of fifteen objects of applied art from the trading stock of art dealership Kunsthandel Mozes Mogrobi
In a letter dated 14 July 2005, the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science (OCW) asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding a decision to be taken on the application filed by A.M. J. in A., also on behalf of his sisters R.S. J., J.M. J. and E.H. J. (hereafter referred to as ‘applicants’), for the restitution of fifteen objects of applied art from the former trading stock of Kunsthandel Mozes Mogrobi, the art dealership that belonged to the applicants’ grandfather (hereafter referred to as ‘Kunsthandel Mogrobi’). Ever since their return to the Netherlands after the Second World War, the fifteen objects have been part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereafter referred to as the ‘NK collection’), where they have been registered under the following fourteen inventory numbers: NK 170, NK 186 A-B, NK 219, NK 347, NK 348, NK 350, NK 353, NK 356, NK 361, NK 411, NK 414, NK 419, NK 464 and NK 595.
The application for restitution was the result of the publication of Deelrapportage VI (Subreport IV) by the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as ‘BHG’), which mentions several art objects that, according to BHG, were part of the trading stock of Kunsthandel Mogrobi up to various points in time during World War II. In response to this publication, applicant A.M. J. corresponded with the Ministry of OCW, after which he submitted an application for restitution on 23 June 2005. In response to the request for a recommendation that was subsequently submitted, the Restitutions Committee instituted a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were summarised in a draft report dated 25 September 2006. This draft report was submitted to the applicants, after which A.M.J. reported on their behalf by telephone that they did not have comments. The report, which is considered an integral part of this recommendation and which is referred to as far as the facts are concerned, was adopted by the Restitutions Committee in its meeting of 12 February 2007. In view of the announcement of a contradictory claim to one of the fifteen claimed art objects – a nineteenth-century bronze sculpture by C.E. Meunier (NK 414) – the Committee decided in its meeting of 12 February 2007 to postpone its recommendation on NK 414 and register it as case number RC 1.60. This recommendation therefore has no bearing on NK 414 and in the rest of this text it is assumed that the application for restitution concerns fourteen objects of applied art (thirteen NK numbers, see appendix 1 to this recommendation).
a) The Committee has drawn up its opinion with due regard for the relevant (lines of) policy issued by the Ekkart Committee and the government.
b) The Committee asked itself whether it is acceptable that an opinion to be issued is influenced by its potential consequences for decisions in subsequent cases. The Committee resolved that such influence cannot be accepted, save in cases where special circumstances apply, since allowing such influence would be impossible to justify to the applicant concerned.
c) The Committee then asked itself how to deal with the circumstance that certain facts can no longer be ascertained, that certain information has been lost or has not been recovered, or that evidence can no longer be otherwise compiled. On this issue, the Committee believes that if the problems that have arisen can be attributed at least in part to the lapse of time, the associated risk should be borne by the government, save in cases where exceptional circumstances apply.
d) The Committee believes that insights and circumstances which, according to generally accepted views, have evidently changed since the Second World War should be granted the status of new facts.
e) Involuntary loss of possession is also understood to mean sale without the art dealer’s consent by ‘Verwalters’ [Nazi-appointed caretakers who took over management of firms owned by Jews] or other custodians not appointed by the owner of items from the old trading stock under their custodianship, in so far as the original owner or his heirs did not receive all the profits of the transaction, or in so far as the owner did not expressly waive his rights after the war.
The applicants request the restitution of fourteen objects of applied art from the NK collection (thirteen NK numbers, appendix 1), which, according to BHG research data, were part of the trading stock of Kunsthandel Mogrobi, the art dealership of which their grandfather – and, after World War II – their grandmother, was the sole owner. In their request for restitution, the applicants act in their capacity as heirs of Mozes Mogrobi (1898-1944) and his widow Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi (1897-1971). The latter continued her late husband’s art dealership as sole owner from the liberation until 1 October 1956. Kunsthandel Mogrobi went into liquidation in 1956 and was wound up as of 1 October 1956. The Committee has taken note of various certificates of inheritance drawn up by Theodoor Heimans and Redmer Bouwman, respectively, both civil-law notaries in Amsterdam.
The relevant facts are described in detail in the above-mentioned investigatory report of 12 February 2007. The document at hand is only a summary of the information. Mozes Mogrobi was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on 10 February 1898. He was of Jewish extraction and had the Ottoman nationality after his birth, which he lost at an unknown point in time. He married Zilia Jacobi in the Netherlands in 1921. Zilia Jacobi had the Dutch nationality and was also of Jewish origin. The investigation shows that Mozes Mogrobi was stateless at the time of his marriage and had a special passport for stateless citizens. The Mogrobi-Jacobi couple had two children: Alfred Mogrobi (1921-1944) and Sonja Mogrobi (1923-1987). As of 1 May 1921, Mozes Mogrobi was the sole owner of an art and antiques dealership in Amsterdam, called Kunsthandel Mozes Mogrobi. From 1933, this art shop was established at Spiegelgracht 11, where the Mogrobi family also lived.
During World War II, some time after the ‘Order concerning the Exclusion of Jews from Economic Affairs’ (12 March 1941) was issued, Kunsthandel Mogrobi was placed under seal by the German occupying forces. The art history archives consulted show that Mozes Mogrobi was still active as a buyer on the art market until 24 June 1941, but he is no longer recorded as buyer after this date. Mozes Mogrobi and his wife went into hiding at an unknown point in time. In July 1944, the Mogrobi family was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where Mozes Mogrobi died in September 1944. His son, Alfred Mogrobi, died in Buchenwald in December 1944. Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi and her daughter, Sonja Mogrobi, survived the war.
It is an established fact that works of art were alienated from the trading stock of Kunsthandel Mogrobi in the period following the events in 1941 until July 1944. The investigation has shown that most of the works of art now claimed, which will be discussed in more detail below, were acquired by German buyers during this period. It has also been established that works of art present at Spiegelgracht 11 – the address of the art dealership and the Mogrobi family’s private address – were confiscated by order of the German Omnia Treuhandgesellschaft mbH in July 1944 and auctioned off at auction house Mak van Waay in Amsterdam on 25 July 1944. A catalogue made of this auction shows that none of the claimed works of art were put up for auction.
After the liberation, Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi continued the business of her late husband until 1 October 1956. In 1947, Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi declared the following about the events during the war and the financial damage incurred:
‘The total damage we incurred during the occupation years as a result of theft from our business etc., etc., amounts to approximately 50,000 guilders. Moreover, our private property was auctioned off at the Fa. S. Mak van Waay, which yielded approximately 58,000 guilders.’
As regards the financial damage suffered, she filed claims for compensation with various agencies after the liberation. Whether and to what amount these claims have been honoured is not known, but as far as the Committee has been able to ascertain, none of these claims concerns the works of art that are the subject of this application for restitution. There has not been any contact either after the war between the Dutch restoration of rights authorities and Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi about the works now claimed. This means that this case has not previously been settled.
The investigation of the fourteen art objects that are part of the current claim for restitution shows that a majority of twelve NK numbers were part of the trading stock of Kunsthandel Mogrobi during the war. A study of the archives has first of all demonstrated that NK 170 was sold by Kunsthandel Mogrobi in July 1942 to the St. Annen Museum in Lübeck. The study then showed that the art objects registered as inventory numbers NK 186 A-B, NK 347, NK 348, NK 350, NK 353, NK 361 and NK 595 were acquired from Kunsthandel Mogrobi by the Kunstsammlungen der Stadt Düsseldorf in 1942. This same German institute acquired what is now NK 356 from the art dealership in the year 1943. As regards NK 419 and NK 464, sources state that Kunsthandel Mogrobi sold these objects to the Thaulow Museum in Kiel in 1943 or 1944. Finally, it has been established that NK 411 was purchased from Kunsthandel Mogrobi by Dr Valentin of Stuttgart at an unknown point in time during World War II. The investigation did not yield any further details about the circumstances surrounding the sales, nor about the persons involved in the transactions.
Pursuant to current national policy in respect of the restitution of works of art, the Committee is obliged to ask itself whether it is highly likely that the works were originally the property of Kunsthandel Mogrobi and whether possession thereof was relinquished involuntarily as a consequence of circumstances directly associated with the Nazi regime. The fact that the NK numbers referred to above were owned by Kunsthandel Mogrobi and alienated during the war has been demonstrated in the investigation as described above in section 6. The question of whether the loss of possession of these art objects should be considered involuntary is also answered in the affirmative. The Restitutions Committee considers these art objects, except for NK 411 (see consideration 8), to have been acquired by German buyers from 1942 onwards, a period during which Mozes Mogrobi cannot be seen as having acted voluntarily given the circumstances referred to above under 3 and 4. The Committee particularly points to the fact that the occupying forces placed the art dealership under seal and that the Mogrobis were persecuted and went into hiding, events the Committee assumes to have taken place in the same period of time. The Committee also draws attention, no doubt superfluously, to the statement by Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi as quoted under 5, which shows that in addition to the confiscation in 1944, she also suffered damage as a result of other forms of looting, such as theft. In the light of the above, the committee considers the application for restitution of NK 170, NK 186 A-B, NK 347, NK 348, NK 350, NK 353, NK 361, NK 595, NK 356, NK 419 and NK 464 admissible.
One of the twelve NK numbers referred to under 6, viz. NK 411, was sold to a German buyer at some unknown point in time during World War II. Because there is no information about the time this transaction took place and it is not known whether the sale occurred with Mozes Mogrobi’s consent, the question concerning the involuntariness of the loss of possession cannot be answered with certainty. Given the above-mentioned circumstances, which show that Mozes Mogrobi must have lost any say about his art dealership quite early after the occupation, and referring, in so far as necessary, to the Committee’s general consideration under c, stating that the risk of loss of information due to the lapse of time is to be borne by the authorities, the Committee is of the opinion that the involuntariness of the loss of possession of NK 411 is also sufficiently plausible. The Committee finds the claim for restitution of NK 411 likewise admissible.
As regards one of the thirteen NK numbers to which the claim for restitution applies, viz. NK 219, it was impossible to ascertain whether it was part of Kunsthandel Mogrobi’s trading stock at the beginning of the war. Although we do know that this work of art belonged to Kunsthandel Mogrobi in 1931, there is no information showing where the work was in the ten subsequent years. The object was purchased by the Museum für Kunstgewerbe in Frankfurt am Main in 1941, but not known is from whom the museum purchased it. As the object of any art dealership is the sale of works of art, the Committee considers it insufficiently plausible that NK 219 was still part of Kunsthandel Mogrobi’s trading stock at the start of the occupation. Referring to the recommendations of the Ekkart Committee, the Restitutions Committee uses the criterion that the right of ownership should be highly plausible. Based on current information there is, therefore, insufficient ground to award the claim for restitution of NK 219.
As the Committee has not found any indication in this case that Kunsthandel Mogrobi has ever received a consideration for the works of art now claimed, repayment of consideration is out of the question.
The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to return the art objects registered under inventory numbers NK 170, NK 186 A-B, NK 347, NK 348, NK 350, NK 353, NK 356, NK 361, NK 411, NK 419, NK 464 and NK 595 to the heirs of Mozes Mogrobi and Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi, the successive owners of Kunsthandel Mozes Mogrobi, the art dealership wound up in 1956.
The Committee advises the Minister to reject the application for restitution of NK 219.
Adopted at the meeting of 12 February 2007.
B.J. Asscher (chair)
P.J.N. van Os
E.J. van Straaten
H.M. Verrijn Stuart
I.C. van der Vlies