Restitution Dispute Over Kremser Schmidt: Historian Advocates Return

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (02/18/2007)

Streibel: City responsible for how it deals with problems of the past

Krems – The Kremser historian, Robert Streibel, advocates a “return of the aryanized works by Kremser Schmdit to their legal heirs.” In no way does the city bear guilt of what happened in the past; it is, however, indeed responsible for how it presently deals with the problems of the past.

The paintings were confiscated in 1938. In 1952 the former owner delivered a waiver renouncing them. Now his living heirs in the USA wish to have the art treasures returned. “In the case of both paintings by Martin Johann Schmidt it also deals with honoring those persons against whom wrong was committed,” emphasizes Streibel. He regrets that the city in this case simply “disappeared from the scene throughout a period of five years.”

As to the history and reputation of Krems referred to as a city with a Nazi past, the historian stated that Krems was the first city in Austria which had a Nazi mayor. After an assassination attempt in Krems, the Nazi party was forbidden throughout all of Austria and Krems was at that time the capital of the illegal NS movement.

Streibel says that he has committed himself for more than twenty years to working through the history of the city during NS times: “Krems was the first small city in which the history of the Jews was documented in this form. Krems has a few monuments and a homepage ( with the only Jewish cemetery which also can be viewed online.” Futhermore, an exhibit was initiated in cooperation with the highschool, appearing in twenty various shops.

In 1998 Mayor Franz Hölzl had the holdings of the city museum inspected for questionable acquisitions during the years 1938 to 1945. One discovered two paintings by Martin Johann Schmidt (“Saint Florian” and “Barock Priest with Chapel”). The Commission for Provenance Research discovered the existence of a waiver from 1952, placing the city now in a dispute over restitution. As a private citizen, he would have had the paintings returned, but as mayor, he is obligated to the city’s legal jurisdiction, said Hölzl a short time ago. He hopes to come to a reasonable consensus and an agreement out of court with the Friedrich Neumann heirs.