Restitution of museum objects to the heirs of Lueneburg merchant Hirsch Lengel

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Nicole Ziemer, chairwoman of the Museum Association, with the heirs of Hirsch Lengel (Foto: D. Hansen)

On May 20, 2017, a very special event took place at the Museum Lueneburg: The restitution of museum objects to the heirs of Lueneburg merchant Hirsch Lengel (1873-1942).

Systematic provenance research at the museum established that in April 1937, the Museum Association acquired two pieces of linen – at the price of 9 Reichsmarks – from Jewish second hand dealer Hirsch Lengel who lived and worked in Lueneburg’s Salzbruecker­strasse 64. At the time, the National Socialist persecution of the Jews had already put the Lengel family under a lot of pressure. Their son Jakob had just been arrested and taken to Dachau concentration camp, their daughter Elisabeth had difficulties preparing her emigration, and in the summer of 1937 the authorities forced Hirsch Lengel to give up his business entirely.

The textiles have been part of the museum’s collection ever since 1937: two large cloths with interwoven patterns and biblical motives, early 17th-century linen damask from Flanders or the Netherlands. For these valuable items, 9 Reichsmarks was a price well below market value even in 1937.

The circumstances show that the Lengel linens constitute a case of Nazi-confiscated cultural property at the Museum Lueneburg, just like the items returned to the Heinemann family in 2015. According to the Washington Principles of 1998, in these cases „steps should be taken expeditiously to achieve a just and fair solution“ with the pre-war owners or their heirs.

Between 1941 and 1944, Hirsch and Berta Lengel as well as four of their seven adult children were deported to different concentration and extermination camps. They did not survive. Hirsch and Berta’s youngest son Jakob Lengel managed to emigrate to the United States via Great Britain. In 1984, he visited his hometown, made possible by a public fundraising campaign of Lueneburg citizens. In 2016, the Museum Lueneburg contacted his heirs in the US and other descendants of Hirsch Lengel in Canada, telling them about the linens and preparing a restitution.

In the spring of 2017, Jakob’s son Michael Lengel decided to come to Lueneburg for the restitution and to give the items on loan to the museum until further notice. The Museum Association thus gave back the linens to the heirs of Hirsch and Berta Lengel as part of a small ceremony on May 20, 2017. After that, Michael Lengel, together with his children Rachel and David, loaned the items to the museum. Both the Museum Lueneburg and the Museum Association are very grateful for the Lengel family’s generous gesture. The linens will become part of the museum’s exhibition, telling the story of the Lengel family.

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Following the restitution by the Museum Association’s chairwoman Nicole Ziemer (second from right), provenance researcher Anneke de Rudder (far right) explains the history of the linens to the Lengel family (from left to right: Michael, David, Rachel, and Joan Lengel)
(Photograph: A. Tamme)
„2 linen textiles, bought from Lengel, Lueneburg, for 9 Reichsmarks, supposedly originating from Lueneburg, with a figurative pattern”. Thus reads position No 37 in the Lueneburg Museum’s book of entries for the year 1937. (Photograph: A. Tamme)
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Lengel family members looking at silent witnesses of the Lengel family’s nightmarish history
(Photograph: D. Hansen)

Restitution Document (German/English)(279 KB)
News Release by the German Lost Art Foundation (German)
Article in local newspaper „LZ” (German)

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