Two Percent of the Appraisal Value

The real value of the Jewish precious stones and precious metals “purchased” by the Dorotheum in 1939 cannot be given a number.

“It is forbidden for Jews to be given a free hand in purchasing, pawning or selling objects of gold, platinum or silver as well as precious stones and pearls. Such objects may only be bought from the public purchasing offices established by the Reich.” This passage laid the groundwork for the expropriation of Jewish valuables; in fact, allowed were to keep only teeth replacements, one’s own wedding ring, a watch (if valued less than 100 Reichsmark), and a set of four-piece silverware. This was made law on December 3, 1938 in the euphemistically so-called “Decree on the Mobilization of Jewish Assets.” It created the pseudo-legal opportunity to force Jews to sell their real estate and businesses, to deposit stocks, securities and numerous items of value in the “purchasing offices.” In terms of the “Ostmark,” the German Reich’s Ministry of Economics in Berlin designated Dorotheum with its subsidiaries as the only “public purchasing office.” At the time the surrender of valuables began on March 6, 1939, a time limit was set for some mere three weeks, but it lasted considerably longer. That it in reality was a matter of plunder rather than sales is clearly revealed by the minimal amounts paid out in exchange for the purchase: In compliance with the guidelines established by the Reich’s Ministry of Economics and the Pawn Office of the City of Berlin, they were committing fraud at a full two percent; in individual cases it reached six percent of the appraisal value. Records of the amounts paid out totaled altogether 3.23 million Reichsmark. The extent of gold and jewels is projected at up to 160 million Reichsmark. In reality, one cannot even begin qualifying the “sum of the value of the jewels and precious metals expropriated, conducted by the Dorotheum, according to the investigation commissioned by Vienna’s auction house. Historian Stefan August Lütgenau came to the conclusion that alone the silver collected in Vienna, weighing fifty tons, exceeded the amounts stolen in other urban cities within the German Reich. Gold weighed some 153.96 kilograms; platinum weighed about 2.97 kilograms. The Dorotheum received ten percent of the “sum of the purchases” as a commission. Most of the silver was labeled “Bruchware” and was melted down. The museums courted the artistic, highly valuable items, whereas parts of the jewels that were originally transported to Berlin came back to the auction house at the Dorotheum: There the entire proceeds finally was settled for 415,000 Reichsmark. The auction’s catalogue pointed out that Jews were forbidden participation in the auctions.

Dorotheum was privatized in 2001; from the proceeds some 32 million dollars went as a “symbolic act” to the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism.” Four years ago the Dorotheum established its own division for provenance research for the purpose of identifying NS looted goods for its auction.