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German Curator On A Mission To Repatriate Silver Artifacts Nazis Stole From Jewish Families

By 06/13/2023 7:54 PMNo CommentsBy YidInfo Staff

Matthias Weniger put on a pair of white cloth gloves and carefully raised a candleholder made of tarnished silver, looking for a faded sticker on the underside.

Candlesticks are one of 111 silver artifacts stolen from Jewish families during the Third Reich and are now on display at the Bavarian National Museum.

In one of the many regulations designed to degrade, punish, and exclude Jews, they then ordered all German Jews to deliver their silver items to pawn shops all around the Reich.

After the Nazis were elected to power in Germany in 1933, anti-Jewish prejudice and persecution began.

By the time the Holocaust began in 1939 and ended with Germany’s defeat in 1945, 6 million European Jews and others had been killed.

Weniger, who manages the Munich museum’s restitution operations as a curator, has made it his duty to return as many of the silver items to the original owners’ ancestors as he can.

The Associated Press spoke with Weniger last week at the museum’s workshop, where he was displaying some silver artifacts that have not yet been returned.

“These silver objects handed in at the pawn shops are often the only material things that remain from an existence wiped out in the Holocaust,” Weniger said.

Therefore, he continued, “It’s crucial to try to find the families and return the artifacts to them.

To aid Germany’s war efforts, 135 tons of silver were made from thousands of the pieces confiscated from Jewish homes.

But several museums ended up with hundreds of silver objects, including silver cake servers, candlesticks to light candles on Shabbat eve, and Kiddush cups to bless wine and spoons.

In the 1950s and 1960s, some goods were given back to Holocaust survivors who came forward and made an effort to reclaim their lost property.

However, many owners perished in the Holocaust or, if they managed to escape the Nazis, ended themselves in other parts of the world.

“Two-thirds of the last owners did not survive the Shoah,” Weniger claimed.

Despite the odds, Weniger has so far been successful in returning roughly 50 things to the original owners’ family members and relatives through meticulous detective work, perseverance, and in-depth historical knowledge.

By the end of this year, he is confident that he could return practically all the remaining items.

He starts by looking up who the original owners were. His efforts are frequently aided by the tiny yellowed paper stickers on some of the pieces.

They were attached by the pawn shops, a monument to Germans’ obsession with paperwork even during dictatorships and times of war.

The names of the people who had to give away their silver, some prized relics passed down through families for many generations, are listed on documents over 80 years old and include the numbers on the stickers.

When Weniger learns the original owners’ identities, he begins searching Jewish genealogical and obituary databases, hoping their names may have been placed online by immediate or distant ancestors.

The researcher continued, “So as you move from one generation to the next, you end up with telephone books… with LinkedIn, with Facebook, with Instagram or email addresses that correspond to a member of the younger generation of that family.”

Weniger claims he usually strikes lucky and finds the appropriate family members.

The museum has already returned silver pieces to France, the United Kingdom, and Israel, albeit most descendants reside in the United States and Israel.

Weniger makes a point of presenting the families with the artworks in person. He visited the US earlier this year, and 19 items were sent to Israeli families last week.

In Kfar Shmaryahu, a village north of Tel Aviv, Weniger met Hila Gutmann, 53, and her father, Benjamin Gutmann, 86, and presented them with a little silver cup.

With the aid of Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Weniger could locate the family.

Salomon Gutmann, a Bavarian cattle dealer, and his wife Karolina are said to have used the cup for Kiddush to bless the wine on the eve of Shabbat, but no one is certain of this because they were the cup’s original owners.


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bobby bracros

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