Recommendation regarding Witmond: ice boat Sperwer
In a letter dated 3 June 2014 the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (hereinafter referred to as the Minister) requested the Restitutions Committee (hereinafter referred to as the Committee) for advice about the application from AA, BB, CC, DD and EE (hereinafter referred to as the Applicants) of 23 April 2014 for restitution of the ice boat Sperwer (hereinafter referred to as the ice boat). The ice boat is among the possessions of the Dutch State, but not of the Netherlands Art Property Collection (hereinafter referred to as the NK collection), and it is in the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen (hereinafter also referred to as the Museum).
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 the Committee will give great weight when discharging its advisory task 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.
In a letter dated 3 June 2014 the Minister asked the Committee for advice about the application from the Applicants of 23 April 2014 for restitution of the ice boat.
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 27 November 2014. The Applicants and the Minister were given the opportunity to respond to this overview of the facts. The Applicants responded in a letter of 8 January 2015. The Minister responded in a letter dated 23 January 2015.
There was a hearing about the case on 13 April 2015. On behalf of the Applicants the hearing was attended by AA, BB, DD, FF and GG, adviser. On behalf of the Minister the hearing was attended by HH, policy assistant, and II, Dutch National Art Collection consultant. On behalf of the Museum the hearing was attended by JJ, curator, and KK, executive secretary. The Committee was represented by its Chairman, W.J.M. Davids, and Committee Member J.T.M. Bank.
- The Committee has established the relevant facts on the grounds of the draft overview of facts of 27 November 2014 and the responses to it that the Committee received. The following summary is sufficient here. The Applicants have argued that their great uncle Andries Witmond (1893-1943; hereinafter also referred to as Witmond), who was of Jewish descent, lost possession of the ice boat during the occupation as the result of theft. The Applicants are among the heirs of Witmond and his wife Berendje Wolf (1897-1943). The couple were married in community of property and had two children, Philip Benjamin (1924-1943) and Benjamin Philip (1928‑1943). Witmond ran a drapery business in Monnickendam, which he had taken over from his father Philip Witmond (1858-1923).
The last known address of the Witmond family was Muiderstraat 4a-III in Amsterdam. The family was taken away to Westerbork on 27 May 1943 and murdered in Sobibor on 4 June 1943. Other members of the Witmond family were also victims of the persecution of the Jews.
- The background to the restitution application was the Museum’s investigation into the provenance of its own collection under the auspices of the Netherlands Museums Association in connection with looting, confiscation or forced sale during the period starting in 1933. On the grounds of the investigation conducted by the Museum, Rudi Ekkart, Chairman of the Museum Acquisitions since 1933 Committee, pointed out the ice boat’s suspect provenance to the Museum. In response to this the Museum curator, JJ, did additional research into the ice boat. The results of this research were recorded in the report Herkomst Helder: verwerving van de ijstjotter ‘Sperwer’ (‘Clear Provenance: Acquisition Of The Ice Boat Sperwer’) of 7 March 2013. In his report JJ concluded as follows.
‘The Zuiderzee Museum purchased the ice boat Sperwer in 1951 in good faith. At the time the object’s provenance was not investigated. According to Vereniging Oud Monnickendam (Monnickendam Conservation Association) Andries Witmond’s brother Moos and one of his sisters and/or their descendants are thought to be the rightful owners of the ice boat Sperwer after the Nazis murdered Andries Witmond and his family in Sobibor extermination camp in 1943.
The Zuiderzee Museum did not buy the object from the official owner but from the person who had obtained the ice boat in an unlawful way.
After the letter of 2 December 1998 from museum consultant Jan Sparreboom, the management of the Zuiderzee Museum probably took no further action to trace the family of Andries Witmond, as advised in the letter.
As and when descendants are found, the museum can discuss the future of the boat with these lawful owners.’
- The results of the national museum investigation have been available on the museum acquisitions website www.musealeverwervingen.nl since October 2013. The information provided by the Museum about the ice boat includes the following.
Before 1908 <> 1943 (?) / Andries Witmond (collection), Monnickendam / Museum inventory
1943 (?) <> 1951-09-27 / Water sports centre, K. / Museum inventory
1951-09-27 <> present day / Purchased by the museum from the water sports centre / Museum inventory.
- Conclusion / Before the Second World War the ice boat belonged to the Jewish businessman Andries Witmond.
- Notes / The Witmond family had a draper’s in Middendam in Monnickendam. The Sperwer was stored in the warehouse across the road from the Witmond family’s shop. Andries Witmond was murdered in Sobibor in 1943. According to the then alderman, in 1943 the ice boat was stolen from the warehouse and taken to De Zeilhoek, the water sports centre in K.. The owner of the water sports centre sold the ice boat to the Zuiderzee Museum in 1951 for 300 guilders. On 14 April 1997 a wooden trunk containing a set of two cotton sails belonging to the ice boat Sperwer came into the possession of the Zuiderzee Museum.
The museum has traced the rightful claimants and is in contact with them.’
- During the course of its investigation the Committee found indications which confirm that Witmond was the owner of the ice boat at the time of the German occupation and that he lost possession as a result of theft. For example the documentation about Witmond in the archives of the Netherlands Property Administration Institute (hereinafter referred to as the NBI) contains a ‘STAAT VAN BEZITTINGEN VAN DEN HEER A. WITMOND te MONNICKENDAM’, a schedule of Witmond’s possessions drawn up after the war. On this schedule there is the following reference to an ‘ice boat’.
‘There was an ice boat with full rigging at the property of Mr G. Karmelk at N.Z. Burgwal 30 in Monnickendam. It was sold by LL, a member of the NSB (Dutch National Socialist Movement), of Monnickendam to another NSB member, MM from K..’
The NBI archives also contain two letters written in 1947 by L. Grunwald, Witmond’s administrator, to the NBI in which he described his attempts to get back Witmond’s ‘ice boat … pinched by NSB member LL’.
The Committee has found indications that the aforementioned LL then sold the ice boat to the NSB member MM from K., operator of De Zeilhoek marina. A June 1945 inventory of his assets includes ‘In the attic: […] 1 ice boat/ [f] 50.—’.
On 24 April 1947 E. IJlst, the administrator of MM’s assets, wrote the following in a note to a financial overview. ‘The possessions include an ice boat without sails that MM bought from LL of Monnikendam (during the occupation).’
- The Museum acquired the ice boat in 1951 from NN, son of the aforementioned MM. After the then director of the Museum, S.J. Bouma, had been made aware of the existence of the ice boat, he wrote to the Minister of Education, Arts and Sciences on 6 September 1951 asking for authorization to purchase the ice boat for 300 guilders. After the requested authorization was granted the Museum bought it. Since then the ice boat has been in the Museum as part of the Dutch National Art Collection.
On 14 April 1997 NN donated to the Museum a wooden trunk containing a set of two cotton sails belonging to the ice boat.
- Since the end of the nineteen-fifties members of Witmond’s family and third parties have repeatedly asked the Museum about the ice boat’s provenance. The Committee refers to section 3.3 of the draft overview of the facts for an overview and the contents of the correspondence concerned.
- The Applicants pointed out that the ice boat was owned by their great-grandfather Philip Witmond. In this regard they referred to a photograph in the magazine De Prins dated January 1908 with the caption, ‘The fastest ice boat in Monnikendam sailing on the Gouwzee (the Sperwer of Mr Witmond)’. According to the Applicants this refers to Philip Witmond.
The Applicants requested the Minister to restitute the ice boat ‘so that justice is done to history’. At the same time the Applicants stated that they were aware of ‘the value of the ice boat to the Zuiderzee Museum’s collection’.
The Minister pointed out that the ice boat is very important to the Zuiderzee Museum because it is a pleasure craft. An ice boat was used for recreation on ice on the Zuiderzee, in the same vein as skates and sledges pushed by people or drawn by horses. There are only a few ice boats in museum collections. This ice boat fits better than any other into the Zuiderzee Museum’s collection because it was used on the Gouwzee/Zuiderzee. According to the Minister, as a consequence of this the ice boat is also very important to the Dutch National Art Collection and the cultural heritage of the Netherlands.
The ice boat was in the Museum between its acquisition in 1951 and the renovation of the Museum in 1997. Since the renovation the ice boat has been in the Hoogwoud repository. The Zuiderzee Museum is planning to develop an exhibition about recreation on ice with the ice boat at its centre.
Assesment of the claim
- In a letter dated 8 January 2015 the Applicants stated that their application also relates to the wooden trunk containing a set of two cotton sails that was donated to the Museum by NN on 14 April 1997. In a letter dated 23 January 2015 the Minister agreed that the Committee’s advice also relates to this donation.
- The Applicants have stated that they are heirs of Witmond. The Committee has taken note of the certificates of inheritance submitted by the Applicants and on the grounds of these certificates the Committee sees no reason to doubt the Applicants’ status as heirs of Witmond.
- The Committee finds, on the basis of the information provided by the Applicants and the Minister as well as the results of the investigation the Committee has conducted, that it is highly likely that Witmond was the owner of the ice boat at the time of the asserted involuntary loss of possession. In this regard the Committee refers to the facts given under 2, 3 and The Committee furthermore finds that this loss of possession must be designated as involuntary. Several statements included in the draft overview of the facts give grounds for believing there was theft, which by definition makes the loss of possession involuntary. The precise date of this theft cannot be established with certainty, but it probably took place in 1943 or 1944. By then Witmond had very probably had to leave Monnickendam as a result of the German occupation and had probably already been murdered in Sobibor. In the Committee’s view the theft of the ice boat during this period from the possession of the Jewish Witmond committed by a member of the NSB can be attributed to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime.
- The Committee advises about this application according to the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness and it therefore now weighs up the interests concerned.
The Committee takes account of the following. Witmond was the Applicants’ great uncle. Although not all those entitled to Witmond’s estate are known at this moment, the application nevertheless concerns the restitution to members of the Witmond family of an item of cultural value that was in the possession of the Witmond family in any event between 1908, and very probably earlier, and the moment of the theft. In addition the heirs of Witmond, with assistance from third parties, made several attempts after the war to broach the loss of possession with the Museum. The Committee finds on these grounds that the interest of the Applicants has great weight with regard to restitution.
Although the Minister stated that the ice boat is of special importance to the Zuiderzee Museum’s collection and to the Dutch National Art Collection, in view of the considerations discussed above, the Applicants’ interest in the return of the ice boat must be given greater weight than the interest of the Dutch State in retaining the ice boat for the Dutch National Art Collection.
The Restitutions Committee advises the Minister of Education, Culture and Science to restitute the ice boat Sperwer with all accessories such as the two cotton sails to those who are entitled to the estates of the married couple Andries Witmond and Berendje Witmond-Wolf, who according to the Social Organizations Foundation for Compensation Matters (JOKOS) file concerned both died in Sobibor on 4 June 1943.
Adopted at the meeting on 18 May 2015 by W.J.M. Davids (Chairman), J.T.M. Bank, 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)