LIFTProv - The handling of Jewish emigrants' resettlement goods in Hamburg after 1939: Participants, networks and ways of utilization

Research expertise at the German Maritime Museum bears fruit. Provenance research on the looted property of Jewish emigrants enters the second round

The LIFTProv project represents the second phase of the research on the belongings Jewish that has already begun in Bremen. The successfully completed project on the whereabouts of Nazi-looted goods at the German Maritime Museum (DSM) / Leibniz Institute of Maritime History is being expanded and is being financially supported by the German Center for Cultural Heritage Losses with about 200,000 Euros. As a logical consequence of the research on collection objects in the museum and materials from Bremen, the radius of the investigations will now be extended to Hamburg. The Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, the Altonaer Museum, the Museum am Rothenbaum, the State Archive and the Hamburg State Library.

For people persecuted as Jews because of Nazi ideology, emigration from the Third Reich after 1933 was often the only way to save their own lives and those of their families. Detailed packing lists had to be submitted to the Gestapo and high taxes had to be paid. The household possessions - stowed in cartons and crates, called "liftvans" - left Germany on cargo ships, mostly via the ports of Hamburg and Bremen. The transported goods were brought to the port by freight forwarders and stored there until they were shipped.

When the war began in September 1939, civilian shipping was largely discontinued. Freight that had not yet been loaded remained in the warehouses, and ships that had already left were ordered back to Germany. From spring 1940, the Gestapo confiscated these unshipped goods in order to "utilize" their contents and allow the proceeds to go to the German Reich. The emigrants' private possessions were publicly auctioned off to the highest bidder on behalf of the Oberfinanzdirektion (Chief Finance Office). Buyers were not only private individuals, but also traders, museums and libraries.

The database of these confiscated goods created in the previous project will now be expanded by important information about events in Hamburg and will continue to be supported by the two-member team of the DSM. In the future, the database will enable cooperation partners in Hamburg and members of the public to access information about objects that were confiscated and auctioned during the Nazi era and their original owners.

Project manager Dr. Kathrin Kleibl explains how overlaps and similarities in names can be found in the course of the initiated research process: "Freight forwarders, port companies, customs authorities, the Gestapo, trustees and the bailiff's office have well documented the goods and their routes, so that we can trace the detours by which an object reached a new owner. In some cases, objects were sold through middlemen before being offered to a museum. Certain names appear again and again. The aim of the project is to trace in detail the path of the relocated object from the time it left the owner's house to the new owner, in order to provide a basis for the tracing and restitution of the lost objects and works of art".

Kleibl continues: "The LIFTProv project provides basic research and an overdue processing of existing documents in the archives. In addition to the will to make amends and the intended return of objects to the heirs, the processes and involved parties will be historically re-arranged". From October 2020, the DSM provenance research department will extend the project into the second phase with a focus on the Hamburg region.

Project Manager

Dr. Kathrin Kleibl

+49 471  48 207 835


Dr. Jacqueline Malchow (research assistant),

Jana Schäfer (student assistant)

Invar Thea Eickmeyer 

Irene Cantez (volunteer for family research)

LostLift Database

to the database

Picture credits cover picture

Provided with the kind permission of the Speicherstadtmuseum Hamburg (Gustav Werbeck/HHLA-Fotoarchiv)


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