Archives of Nazi Records: The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg

The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) was the main Nazi agency responsible for looting Jewish-owned cultural valuables in Nazi-occupied countries as well as plundering libraries, archives and Judaica.

After the war, ERR records were scattered around the globe, and have been found in over 30 repositories in 10 countries. ERR original files include hundreds of thousands of listings of artworks, books, archives and other cultural valuables looted by the Nazis. The detail with which the ERR, headed by Adolf Hitler’s ideological henchman Alfred Rosenberg, documented the art, archives, books, and Judaica it plundered has proved essential for recovery efforts.

To unify and provide access to these scattered and complex records — which can help determine if an artwork was looted — the Claims Conference/WJRO has initiated several interrelated projects:

  1. ERR Archival Guide: Written by Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, the preeminent expert on WWII displaced archives, Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder: A Guide to the  Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) and the Postwar Retrieval of ERR Loot is funded by the Claims Conference.  The Guide documents the current locations of all ERR records, details their contents, and provides links to online sources.  The Guide also describes considerable documentation regarding the subsequent fate, postwar retrieval, and restitution of the ERR loot.
    A previous version sponsored by the Claims Conference was published under the title of Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder: A Survey of the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) by the International Institute for Social History, whose own massive Amsterdam and Paris archival collections were plundered by the ERR and whose building on the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam was used for the ERR headquarters in the Netherlands. The ERR Survey in its first edition produced by the International Institute of Social History IISH-IISG, Amsterdam, 2010 may be seen at http://www.iisg.nl/publications/errsurvey/.
  2. Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume. This searchable database of the looting of more than 20,000 individual art objects from Jews in German-occupied France and Belgium shows that at least half of the objects were not restituted to their original owners. The database contains the digitized versions of original Nazi looting records and photographs.The information in the database, based on art that the Nazis stored temporarily at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, is searchable by item, artist, owner and whether items have been returned. It has been instrumental in the provenance search of the approximately 1,600 pieces of art discovered by German authorities in 2012 in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt and subsequently in Mr. Gurlitt’s second residence in Austria. Jewish dealer Paul Rosenberg – the owner of at least one painting found in the Gurlitt collection — possessed a large collection of items that the Nazis amassed at the Jeu de Paume.  Nazi leader Hermann Goering personally appointed a number of dealers to sell off Rosenberg’s collection, including Hildebrandt Gurlitt, whose son Cornelius was hiding the artworks. Each of the original ERR registration cards for more than 20,000 art objects has been digitized into the database in electronic form, listing Nazi ERR code numbers, artwork titles, artists and detailed descriptions of each work. Many entries include photos of the artworks or objects as well as a scan of the original Nazi record.“The Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume” is consulted on a daily basis by major auction houses and many other organizations, and also by France’s Ministry of Culture. The database has helped art experts identify a number of major artworks for restitution. It has contributed to the recent creation under President Francois Hollande of France of a commission to identify the owners of artworks in the Musées Nationaux Récupération (MNR) collection and to restitute the artworks to them. View an example of such a work that has been identified by the database.
  3. Digitizing ERR Documents
    1. Ukraine
      The State Archives in Ukraine has the largest collection of ERR documents in the world. The Claims Conference arranged for these 140,000 pages, held by Ukraine since 1945 (in secret before 1990), to be digitized and adapted for the Internet in 2010, with cooperation from the Bundesarchiv, the German Federal Archives. Many documents describe individual items, while others list the number of crates from specific museums or libraries, detailing their origin, date of plunder and where they were stored or relocated by the Nazis. View the collection.
    2. Germany
      The second-largest collection of ERR documents in the world, held by the Federal Archives of Germany, is now available online. The Claims Conference sponsored the digitization of the bulk of these records. View the collection.
    3. Elsewhere
      Partly with the assistance of the Claims Conference, digitized ERR files from Moscow, Berlin, Koblenz, Kyiv, Amsterdam, Paris, New York and Washington are also available through the International Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property.
  4. Jewish Cultural Items Based on the “Survey of the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR)” and the success of the “Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume,” the Claims Conference has begun to use the ERR records regarding Jewish libraries and Judaica in Eastern Europe and in the countries of the former Soviet Union.In 2012-2013, the Claims Conference presented the paper “The Looting of Jewish and Cultural Objects in Former Yugoslavia: The HAG Südosten & the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg in Belgrade, Agram (Zagreb) and Ragusa (Dubrovnik)” to the Ministry of Culture of Croatia and other relevant organizations in Croatia. In February 2014, the same presentation was given to relevant Serbian governmental ministries and at a conference on “Nationalization, Confiscation, and Restitution” held in Belgrade.The Claims Conference has begun a pilot project regarding Jewish libraries and Judaica in Croatia, in cooperation with the National Library of Israel and the National and University Library in Zagreb. A similar project, in cooperation with the National Library of Israel and the V.I. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine — which was plundered by the ERR — is expected to move forward soon.