Mogrobi II

a brass trinket box

Recommendation regarding Mogrobi II

Recommendation number: 
RC 1.145
Type: 
State collection
Publishing date: 
20 July 2015
Period loss of possession: 
1940-1945
Private owner/art dealer: 
Art dealership
Location of loss: 
The Netherlands

 

In an undated letter received on 2 June 2014 the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (hereinafter referred to as the Minister) asked the Restitutions Committee (hereinafter referred to as the Committee) for advice about the restitution application from AA, also on behalf of his sisters BB, CC and DD, (hereinafter referred to as the Applicants) of 16 March 2014. This restitution application concerns a brass trinket box, an ivory polyptych and a bronze discoid candlestick (hereinafter referred to as the items). The items are among the possessions of the Dutch State, but not of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereinafter referred to as the NK collection), and are in Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede (hereinafter also referred to as the Museum).

Assessment framework

Pursuant to article 2, paragraph 1, of the Decree Establishing the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War, as amended, there is a Committee that is tasked with advising the Minister at the Minister’s request about decisions to be taken regarding applications for the restitution of items of cultural value whose original owner involuntarily lost possession due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime and which are:
a. part of the NK collection or
b. among the other possessions of the Dutch State.
            Pursuant to paragraph 5, the Committee advises with regard to applications as referred to in paragraph 1, under b, on the basis of the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness.
            Pursuant to paragraph 6, when discharging its advisory task as referred to in the first paragraph, the Committee will give great weight to the circumstances of the acquisition by the owner and the possibility that there was knowledge about the suspect provenance at the time of the acquisition of the item of cultural value concerned.

The procedure

In response to the Minister’s request for advice, the Committee conducted an investigation into the facts. The results of the investigation are recorded in a draft overview of the facts dated 1 December 2014. The Applicants and the Minister were given the opportunity to respond to this overview of the facts. The Applicants responded in an e-mail dated 28 December 2014. The Minister responded in a letter dated 5 February 2015.

Considerations

1. The Committee has established the relevant facts on the grounds of the draft overview of facts of 1 December 2014 and the responses to it that the Committee received. The following summary is sufficient here.

2. The Applicants are the grandchildren of Mozes Mogrobi (1898-1944; hereinafter also referred to as Mogrobi) and his widow Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi (1897-1971).
       Mogrobi was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on 10 February 1898. He was of Jewish descent. In 1921 in the Netherlands he married Zilia Jacobi, who had Dutch nationality and was also of Jewish descent. It emerged from the investigation that at the time of the wedding Mogrobi was stateless. The Mogrobis had two children, Alfred Mogrobi (1921-1944) and Sonja Mogrobi (1923-1987). From 1 May 1921 Mogrobi was the sole owner of an art and antiques gallery in Amsterdam called Kunsthandel Mozes Mogrobi (hereinafter referred to as the gallery). From 1933 the gallery’s premises were at Spiegelgracht 11, which was also the Mogrobi family’s home address.

3. After the German invasion Mogrobi and his family were affected by the anti-Jewish measures of the occupying forces. On the basis of Regulation VO 6/1941 promulgated by the occupying forces, all people ‘of full or partial Jewish blood’ were obliged to register with the mayor of their local authority within one month. Mogrobi and his family registered. On 18 February 1941 they completed the registration form in which they stated they were of the Portuguese-Jewish denomination and had four ‘Jewish grandparents within the meaning of article 2 of the regulation’.
       It emerged from the investigation that between the end of July 1942 and the end of May 1943 Mogrobi tried to change his registration and that of his family from ‘Volljuden’ (‘full Jews’). A request to that end had to be submitted to the Generalkommissariat für Verwaltung und Justiz (General Commissariat for Administration and Justice). An initial request was submitted on behalf of Mogrobi in a letter dated 30 July 1942 by the Amsterdam lawyer H.E. Tenkink, but it was rejected. Thereafter Mogrobi sent a new letter himself to the Abteilung innere Verwaltung (Department for Administration of the Interior) on 24 September 1942. On 22 April 1943 he also summoned the Portuguese-Jewish Congregation in Amsterdam to appear in the District Court of Amsterdam because this congregation had allegedly wrongly registered him and his family as members. On 6 May 1943 the court decided in Mogrobi’s favour. As described in section 2.3 of the draft overview of the facts, Mogrobi tried in all kinds of ways to demonstrate that the registration of him and his family as ‘full Jews’ was wrong, but on 18 May 1943 he received notification from the head of the State Population Register Inspectorate that his ‘request for dejewification’ had once again been rejected.

4. On 8 April 1944 at the police station in Leidscheplein in Amsterdam Mogrobi reported the theft of ‘men’s and women’s clothing and shoes … with a combined value of approximately 5,000 guilders’ from the warehouse of his fellow antiques dealer Jacob Aalderink. The report designates Mogrobi as an antiques dealer with Turkish nationality.
       Meanwhile the occupying authorities had become interested in the gallery. On 6 March 1944 Omnia Treuhandgesellschaft mbH (hereinafter referred to as Omnia) received instructions from the Wirtschaftsprüfstelle (Companies Inspectorate) to act as Liquidationstreuhänder (liquidators) of Mogrobi’s business. On 27 March 1944 Omnia received the Bestallungsurkunde (certificate of appointment), after which the liquidation was initiated. There was a sale of the gallery’s goods on 25 July 1944 at the Mak van Waay auction house.

5. According to the post-war statement by Zilia Mogrobi, when the gallery was seized Mogrobi and his wife had gone into hiding in Sloterdijk. On 6 July 1944 they were apprehended by the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) and taken to the police station in Admiraal de Ruyterweg close to Sloterdijk. It emerges from the post-war statement by Zilia Mogrobi that on 12 July she and her husband were taken to Westerbork, from where they were deported  to Auschwitz on 3 September 1944. Before the end of the month Mogrobi was murdered in Auschwitz. He was 46 years old. His son Alfred Mogrobi suffered the same fate in Buchenwald concentration camp on 1 December 1944. On 26 October 1944 Zilia Mogrobi was taken to the German labour camp Liebau, where she was liberated on 9 May 1945. The couple’s daughter, Sonja Mogrobi, survived the war.

6. After Zilia Mogrobi returned to the Netherlands on 13 June 1945 she continued her husband’s business. She submitted a number of compensation claims in order to receive some recompense for the goods lost during the Second World War. These claims primarily concerned the goods that were lost during the auction at Mak van Waay on 25 July 1944 but not the items currently being claimed. The gallery was liquidated with effect from 1 October 1956.

7. The following can be stated about the role of the Museum. The Museum was founded as a result of an initiative by the Twente textiles magnate Jan Bernard van Heek, who wanted his painting collection to be housed in a new national museum in Enschede. After his death in 1923 this initiative was continued by members of his family, including his half-brother Jan Herman van Heek (1873-1957, hereinafter referred to as Van Heek). The Museum was opened in 1930 and Van Heek was appointed its director. He remained in this post until 1956.
       The Museum was closed during the occupation, but Van Heek bought artworks for the Museum during this period. Van Heek also purchased the currently claimed items from the Mogrobi gallery during the occupation. This can be deduced from accounts submitted by the Museum. They show that Van Heek bought the brass trinket box on 1 February 1941 for 350 guilders. He purchased the ivory polyptych and discoid candlestick from the gallery in March 1942. Van Heek paid 2,250 guilders for the polyptych and 50 guilders for the brass candlestick. The total sum of 2,300 guilders also emerges from a receipt issued by the Mogrobi gallery and received on 27 March 1942.
       Van Heek became involved in the resistance during the war. He collected money from industrialists in Enschede for Jews in hiding.

8. Finally it should be pointed out that the recommendation issued earlier by the Committee on 12 February 2007 as a result of a restitution application from the Applicants also concerned the gallery (RC 1.37; hereinafter also referred to as the earlier recommendation). This earlier recommendation was to restitute twelve works from the NK collection to the heirs of Mozes Mogrobi and Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi and to reject the claim to one NK work. The circumstances in which the transactions were made in that case differ from those in the present case in a number of respects.

Assessment of the claim

9. The Applicants have stated that they are heirs of Mozes Mogrobi and Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi. The Committee has taken note of the certificates of inheritance and on the grounds of these certificates the Committee sees no reason to doubt the Applicants’ status as heirs of Mozes Mogrobi and Zilia Mogrobi-Jacobi.

10.  In the Committee’s opinion, on the grounds of the accounts and other documents submitted by the Museum, as referred to in consideration 7, it is highly likely that the currently claimed items were the property of the gallery at the time of the loss of possession.

11.  This subsequently brings the Committee to the question of whether the sale of the items in February 1941 and March 1942 by the gallery to Van Heek for the benefit of the Museum can be considered as involuntary as a result of circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime. It is emphasized that these were transactions made by a gallery. When addressing the question of whether sales by a Jewish gallery have to be considered as involuntary, there is a complicating factor, as pointed out by the Ekkart Committee in the introduction to the Recommendations Concerning Restitution of Art Dealers’ Artworks (2003) as follows: ‘The art trade’s objective is to sell trading stock, so a significant fraction of transactions, even by Jewish art dealers, in principle constituted normal sales.’ In accordance with Recommendation 6 of the recommendations referred to above, the Committee will now check whether, contrary to this basic principle, there are indications that it is highly likely that the transactions in February 1941 and March 1942 were involuntary. In so doing the Committee will take into consideration the earlier recommendation in RC 1.37.

12.  In this connection the Committee considers the following to be important.
(a) The purchaser of the currently claimed items was a Dutch museum director who later became involved in the resistance during the war. The earlier recommendation concerned German buyers, primarily German museums.
(b) The dates on which the currently claimed items were sold were 1 February 1941 and a day in March 1942. The sales involved in the earlier recommendation took place in 1942 and in 1943.
(c) Although it is not known precisely when Mogrobi and his family went into hiding and his gallery was placed under seal, it is highly probable that it was not before March 1942. The Committee deduces this from the fact that the appointment of Omnia as liquidators was not until March 1944 and that on 8 April 1944 Mogrobi still felt free to go to a police station in Amsterdam to report a theft.
(d) The report in 1944 designates Mogrobi as an antiques dealer with Turkish nationality. Turkey was neutral until February 1945 and Jews from neutral countries enjoyed a certain degree of protection for a longer period. The information about this report was not known at the time of the earlier recommendation.
(e) As described in consideration 3, from the end of July 1942 Mogrobi made attempts to have his registration and that of his family as ‘full Jews’ revoked. This information was not known at the time of the earlier recommendation either.
      In view of the circumstances referred to above, which differ from those relating to the earlier recommendation, the Committee is of the opinion that there are insufficient indications to consider the sales of the items currently being claimed as involuntary. Furthermore no indications have been found that make it highly likely that the sales of the items currently being claimed have to be considered as involuntary. This leads to the conclusion that the restitution application should be rejected.


Conclusion

The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister of Education, Culture and Science to reject the application for restitution.

Adopted at the meeting on 20 July 2015 by W.J.M. Davids (Chairman), R. Herrmann, P.J.N. van Os, E.J. van Straaten, H.M. Verrijn Stuart and I.C. van der Vlies (Vice-Chair) and signed by the Chairman and the Acting Secretary.

(W.J.M. Davids, Chairman)                          (R.A.M. Nachbahr, Acting Secretary)

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