A bamboo quiver and an oak three-door milk cupboard
Recommendation regarding the application for the restitution of a bamboo quiver (NK 957) and an oak three-door milk cupboard (NK 966)
In a letter dated 1 December 2006, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (OCW) asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding the decision to be taken on the application filed on 7 November 2006 by N.P. (hereafter referred to as ‘applicant’), for the restitution of a bamboo quiver from the Apokajan Dayaks in Borneo, Indonesia, and a 17th-century oak three-door milk cupboard. The objects are part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection and are registered as NK 957 and NK 966, respectively. The quiver is on loan to the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam; the milk cupboard is in Museum Tongerlohuys in Roosendaal, both in the Netherlands.
The application for restitution was the result of a letter from the Origins Unknown Agency (hereafter referred to as ‘BHG’) dated 26 October 2006, in which the applicant was asked for further information about the claimed objects. It was also noted in the letter that the quiver and the milk cupboard may have been the property of Abraham P., the applicant’s father. In response to the application for restitution that was subsequently submitted, the Restitutions Committee instituted a fact-finding investigation. The Committee has given priority to this application because of the advanced age of the applicant. The results of the fact-finding investigation were summarised in a draft report dated 12 February 2007, which was presented to the applicant and also to the Minister for OCW, who informed the Committee that there was no additional information. The report was adopted on 12 March 2007. For the facts of the case, the Committee refers to its investigatory report, which is considered an integral part of 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 applicant, as the heir of his father, Abraham P. (1877–1957), requests the restitution of a quiver (NK 957) and a milk cupboard (NK 966). The applicant states that he is also acting on behalf of the other heirs. The Committee has taken cognisance of a certificate of inheritance dated 19 March 1957, which states that Abraham P. appointed his wife Ida Annette Sequeira and their three children as heirs.
The following is known about Abraham P.’s life. He was born on 27 July 1877 of Jewish extraction. He served in the Royal Netherlands Indies Army from 5 October 1901 and was billeted in various places in the former Dutch East Indies from 1902. In 1915, he was posted to the ‘Garnizoens Bataljon van de Zuid Ooster’, a garrison battalion in the south-east, in Borneo, where he was in charge of the management of civilians in the Apokajan and Pudjugan regions until February 1921. He returned to the Netherlands with his wife and three children in 1929, taking with him his collection of ethnographic objects, according to the applicant. From 1935 on, the family lived at Nicolaas Maesstraat in Amsterdam. In March 1943, the P. family was arrested and deported via transit camp Westerbork to Theresienstadt. They survived the war.
The applicant has stated that the contents of the house on Nicolaas Maesstraat were confiscated when the family was arrested in 1943. This is also confirmed in files of the Foundation for Jewish Communities and Social Organisations for Damage Reimbursement (JOKOS), which also contained a declaration form dated 1958, submitted by Mrs P.-Sequeira, the applicant’s widow, concerning the theft of household effects,.
Pursuant to current national policy in respect of the restitution of works of art, the Committee is obliged to ask itself whether it is sufficiently plausible that the claimed objects were originally the property of Abraham P., and whether he relinquished possession of the works involuntarily as a consequence of circumstances directly associated with the Nazi regime.
Based on the investigation, the Committee has several indications that suggest that the claimed quiver (NK 957) was the property of P. until it was confiscated in 1943. Shortly after the war, on 14 March 1946, P. reported the loss due to confiscation of a quiver that originated in the Apokajan district of Central Borneo to the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK). He described the quiver as ‘made of large bamboo stems into which were cut handsome figures using a Mandau knife’. He also referred to a picture of a similar quiver in a book entitled A Journey among the Peoples of Central Borneo in word and picture by H.F. Tillema (1933). On the basis of these sources, the Committee has ascertained that the external features of the quiver lost by P. correspond to those of the presently claimed quiver NK 957. Moreover, at a claim exhibition organised by the Netherlands Art Property Foundation in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in March 1950, P. recognised and claimed the quiver NK 957, which had been recovered from a German museum and returned to the Netherlands in September 1947. Subsequently, the director of the Bureau for Restoration Payments and the Restoration of Property (Hergo), one of the successors to the SNK, requested him to prove that the quiver was his property. However, a witness introduced by P. was prevented from being heard due to illness, after which the procedure foundered and Hergo put the claim aside. Incidentally, the Committee assumes that the mention in several documents in the SNK archive of art dealership Aalderink as probable owner of the quiver is based on a misunderstanding. After viewing the quiver in August 1950, Aalderink declared that they did not recognise the quiver.
Based on the above, the Committee considers it sufficiently demonstrated that the claimed quiver was the property of Abraham P. until March 1943. Moreover, it was confirmed in its opinion by the fact that the applicant had recognised the object in a photograph as being the former property of his father, about which he made a detailed statement in October 2006. Needless to say, the Committee indicates that in the 1920s, P. was stationed in the Apokajan region in Borneo, where the quiver originates and, according to the applicant, where it was part of a collection of ethnographic objects that was taken to the Netherlands.
With reference to the milk cupboard (NK 966), on the basis of archive material, it cannot with any certainty be established who the owner was before or during the war. Nonetheless, the Committee has grounds to believe that the milk cupboard was owned by the P. family up until the date of the arrest in 1943. The fact of the matter is that P.’s wife did indeed recognise the milk cupboard at the said claim exhibition in 1950, after which P. submitted a restitution application to the SNK. As with the quiver, the statements given by the family members themselves did not constitute incontrovertible proof of ownership for the SNK (or Hergo), and when the intended witness was prevented from appearing, the procedure came to nothing.
In accordance with current standards of restitution policy, the Committee considers it sufficiently demonstrated that the object belonged to P. in view of the fact that the applicant also recognised the milk cupboard in a photograph and was able to remember exactly where it was situated in the house at the time. Where necessary, the Committee refers to the general consideration under C, in which any risk of proof having been lost on account of the lapse of time should be borne by the government.
Finally, the Committee considers that given the confiscation of household effects in 1943, it is plausible that P.’s loss of possession of the quiver and the milk cupboard was involuntary due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.
In the light of the above, the Committee is of the opinion that the conditions for restitution have been met. As there is no question of this case having been settled in the past, there are no grounds for not allowing the restitution application.
The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister for Education, Culture and Science to return the quiver (NK 957) and the milk cupboard (NK 966) to Abraham P.’s heirs.
Adopted at the meeting of 12 March 2007.
B.J. Asscher (chair)
P.J.N. van Os
E.J. van Straaten
H.M. Verrijn Stuart
I.C. van der Vlies