Sold under Nazi rule: On the Provenance of a Manuscript in Princeton’s Goethe Collection, Dennis Schaefer, GS (2265857)
My presentation discusses the provenance of a 19th century German manuscript by the German author Johann Wolfgang Goethe in our Special Collections, which was sold under Nazi rule in 1934. As part of the Benno-Elkan-Collection of Goethe, this manuscript – an exquisite autograph with Goethe’s own signature – came to us through a deed of gift in 1951. But as I found it by researching the collection, the manuscript in question was actually sold illegally in 1934, when the manuscript collection of a German-Jewish lawyer by the name of Leon Nathansohn was disbanded. As I uncovered over the course of my provenance research, Princeton has effectively owned an item for the last 70 years that was acquired illegally. This shows how a manuscript – as an artefact of its own time – can encapsulate the large-scale repercussions of displacement and dispossession. Our Special Collection has therefore undertaken steps to restitute the family thanks to my discovery.