A tin Maccabee lamp
Recommendation regarding the application for restitution of a tin Maccabee lamp (NK 399)
In a letter dated 10 April 2007, the Minister for Education, Culture and Science (OCW) asked the Restitutions Committee to issue a recommendation regarding a decision to be taken on the application submitted on 22 March 2007 by B.Z. (hereafter referred to as ‘applicant’) for the restitution of an eighteenth-century tin Maccabee lamp (NK 399) that is part of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (NK collection) and is currently stored in the depot of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN) in Rijswijk.
The applicant submitted the application for restitution following a visit on 4 December 2006 to the ‘Geroofd, maar van wie?’ (‘Looted, but from whom?’) exhibition in the Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theatre) in Amsterdam where he had recognised the lamp as the one that had belonged to him. In response to the application for restitution that was subsequently submitted, the Restitutions Committee instituted a fact-finding investigation, the results of which were summarised in a draft report dated 3 September 2007. This draft report was submitted to the applicant and to the Minister for OCW for comment on 27 September 2007. The report was subsequently adopted on 5 November 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 if the art was privately owned, 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) It is highly probable that loss of possession was involuntary if the object was sold without the art dealer’s consent and 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.
Explanation of general considerations c and e
In line with the recommendations with regard to art dealing and the explanation thereof, the Committee has come to the conclusion that consideration c should only apply to the ownership of art by private parties. Consideration e has been modified accordingly while, furthermore, this consideration should be taken to mean that only those objects that were effectively part of the old trading stock are eligible for restitution.
The applicant requests the restitution of a Maccabee lamp, also known as a Chanukkiyah or menorah, which is a lamp or candleholder used during the Jewish holiday of Chanukah commemorating the Maccabean rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after they had defeated the Syrian army in 165 BC. The applicant requests the restitution of the Maccabee lamp (NK 399) in his capacity as its former owner. His application for restitution states:
‘At the Geroofd, maar van wie? (‘Looted, but from whom?’) exhibition on 4 December 2006, I most certainly recognised the abovementioned object as the one I owned before losing it during the Second World War. The Chanukkiyah was a Bar Mitzvah present given to me by my uncle, Mr B. Z. in Amersfoort.’
The investigation shows that the applicant, born on 25 December 1921, is the son of the married Jewish couple Israël Z. (1889-1942) and Matje Verdoner (1887-1942). The couple had other children as well. At the beginning of the war, the family lived in the Joden Houttuinen, a street in Amsterdam. On an unknown date, the German occupying forces deported Israël Z. and Matje Verdoner to Germany. On or around 17 September 1942, they died in Auschwitz. Their seven children, including the applicant, survived the war.
The Committee considers it probable that when the couple were deported, their household effects were confiscated by the Germans. On 7 December 2006, the applicant stated the following in a telephone conversation with an employee of the Origins Unknown Agency:
‘[…] During the war, everything was taken from my parents’ house at Joden Houttuinen 70-72, and a notebook was written on the subject. There was a matzo bakery behind our house called De Zwaan. The whole family hid there during the raid. Our house was completely emptied. And then it was demolished during the Dutch Famine of 1944. … I was sent to Camp Westerbork and from there I went from camp to camp until the end of the war. [...]’
In 1958, one of the applicant’s sisters, C. Z., also declared to the Foundation of Jewish Communities and Social Organisations for Damage Reimbursement (JOKOS) that her parents’ household effects were ‘removed’ (confiscated) after they were deported in September 1942. The Committee has taken cognisance of the application form found in the JOKOS archives. Based on this application, the German government has rewarded the Z. family damages. As far as is known, there was no contact between the Z. family and the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK) about the Maccabee lamp or any other missing objects.
During the investigation into the claim on the Maccabee lamp, no source materials were found that could indicate that the lamp belonged to the applicant at the beginning of the war. Nor could it be determined from the documentation that survived whether the claimed Maccabee lamp was part of the household effects that were stolen from the Z. family. However, a search of the Netherlands Art Property Foundation archives found that, in 1943, the Maccabee lamp (NK 399) belonged to Jannetje Denijs, owner of Denijs art dealers located on the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat in Amsterdam. It is a known fact that this art dealership conducted business with the Germans. The exact date of the sale and to whom Denijs sold the lamp is not known; however, it is known that Denijs sold it to a German buyer in late 1943. After the war, the lamp was returned to the Netherlands from Düsseldorf on 14 April 1948. As far as is known, no applications for the restitution of the Maccabee lamp were submitted after the war.
Pursuant to current national policy in respect of the restitution of items of cultural value, the Committee can only recommend restitution if it is deemed sufficiently probable that the work was originally the property of the applicant and if possession thereof was relinquished involuntarily as a consequence of circumstances directly associated with the Nazi regime. The Committee is therefore confronted with the question of whether it can consider it to be highly probable that the claimed Maccabee lamp was the property of the applicant together with the other household effects that were confiscated from the Z. family at the beginning of the war.
Regarding the question of ownership, the Committee attaches great value to the applicant’s emphatic statement that he recognised the lamp as his own. In this respect, the Committee notes that the applicant had recognised the object on his first visit to the exhibition in December 2006 as the Chanukkiyah he was given by his uncle Barend Z. on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. The Committee would also like to note that the applicant has returned to the exhibition several times since his first visit to see the lamp and has not changed his opinion. Moreover, further art-historical research commissioned by the Committee revealed several specific features that mark the claimed lamp as being unique among its kind. In September 2007, the Committee sent the Jewish Historical Museum information and detailed photographs of the claimed lamp and asked them whether it was unique, in other words, an object that could be recognised based on its individual features. The museum responded as follows:
‘The 18th-century tin chanukkiyah is handcrafted and therefore has unique features including the decorative engraving round the eye, the flat area on the front and around the top. Although there are many lamps of this type, also in the Jewish Historical Museum’s collection, none of them are exactly the same. Based on its shape and crafting, this lamp can be deemed unique in accordance with your own definition.’
Taking this into account, the Committee deems it highly probable that the chanukkiyah the applicant remembers is in actual fact the Maccabee lamp (NK 399) now being claimed. It also would like to point out that the absence of written, objective evidence of ownership cannot be used against the applicant. The Committee refers to its general considerations that state that, in this type of request, the risks of evidential problems occurring due to the lapse of time should be borne by the government. Furthermore, the Committee deems the possibility that a contradictory claim will be made on this Maccabee lamp in the future as negligible. The provenance of objects of art exhibited at the ‘Geroofd, maar van wie?’ exhibition has already been extensively investigated by the Origins Unknown Agency but has not revealed any former owners. It is for these objects that the public has been requested to provide knowledge. It is therefore obvious that great value is attached to the recognition of objects.
In the light of the above, the Committee considers it highly plausible that the claimed lamp was confiscated in 1942 along with the rest of the household effects after the Z.-Verdoner family was deported and that it was subsequently – either immediately or at a later date – sold to art dealer Denijs.
Therefore, the Committee also concludes 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 Maccabee lamp (NK 399) to the applicant B. Z.
Adopted at the meeting of 3 December 2007,
I.C. van der Vlies (vice-chair)
J. Th. M. Bank
P.J.N. van Os
E.J. van Straaten
H.M. Verrijn Stuart
 Until 12 November 2007, general considerations c and e read:
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.
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, insofar as the original owner or his heirs did not receive all the profits of the transaction, or insofar as the owner did not expressly waive his rights after the war.