Provenance research at the ZBW from 2018 to 2021

Object of research

In a provenance research project lasting from December 2018 to the end of 2021, the ZBW made a systematic study into the origins of those objects that entered the ZBW’s collections during the National Socialist era. The title of the project was “Provenance research for literature acquired in the years 1933–1945 for the present ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics”. It was funded from 2018 by the German Lost Art Foundation in Magdeburg.

The objective of the research project

In this research project, the ZBW examined its holdings to establish if it contains books which were seized from their former owners as the result of National Socialist persecution. The objective is to restitute these works to their owners or their heirs. The ZBW first financed a preliminary study which analysed accession records for the years 1933–1945.

Object of analysis

In all, 20,322 objects were included in the research which are divided between the library’s branches as seen below:

  • Kiel: 19,998 objects (17,732 unsuspicious; 653 not unequivocally uncritical; 1,213 critical; and 10 unequivocally seized objects; 290 lost or missing objects)
  • Hamburg: 424 volumes (211 uncritical, 124 not unequivocally uncritical, 3 critical objects; 86 missing or lost objects).

Results of the provenance research

For the ten objects which were unequivocally seized, restitution has begun and has already yielded first contacts despite the pandemic. In addition, these objects, for which there is reasonable suspicion of having been looted, have been entered into the Lost Art database which is the central internet platform for documenting lost and found cultural assets. 1,334 titles, which are suspected to have been looted or must be seen critically, have been entered into the cooperative provenance database Looted Cultural Assets.