A few weeks ago, I was interviewed for the International Day of Provenance Research which highlights the social and academic relevance of provenance research on an international scale. In that interview, I spoke about your great-grandfather, Thomas (my father) and your great-great grandfather, Carl (my grandfather), whose art collection is still quite relevant today.
The article( in German), along with the audio file of my interview (in English) can be found HERE:
Here is an English translation (with thanks to Google Translate and apologies to my mother, your great-Omi, who was a dedicated German teacher and is turning in her grave; she would have asked me to translate it myself! Apologies, too, for the bizarre formatting – attempting to fix it just made it all worse!):
LIVING MEMORY - The art collector Carl Heumann and his family today. A conversation with Carl’s granddaughter, Carol Heumann Snider
Several German museums are currently researching the art collector Carl Heumann (1886–1945), who created an important collection of German and Austrian art from the 18th and 19th centuries with a focus on Romanticism in the 1920s and 1930s. Because of his Jewish origins, he was persecuted under the National Socialist regime. In recognition of the fate of his persecution, the Kupferstich-Kabinett of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin and the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München turned to the descendants of Carl Heumann to jointly find a just and fair solution regarding the Find works of art from his collection.
In a conversation on the "Day of Provenance Research" on April 14, 2021 with provenance researchers Dr. Katja Lindenau (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden) and Melanie Wittchow (Lenbachhaus) Carol Heumann Snider, the granddaughter of the art collector Carl Heumann, discusses her grandfather and her father Thomas Heumann. She describes how she preserves the stories of the two of them and their memories for their children and grandchildren. She gives a deep insight into the life of her family and shows how the fate of both ancestors affects all family members to this day and what possible restitutions mean to them.
The interview was conducted in English on March 19, 2021, the 135th birthday of Carl Heumann, recorded and reproduced here in written form in German. You can listen to the original interview here:
(Go to original link, above, and click on the audio file.)
Melanie Wittchow (MW): Hello and welcome to our conversation "Living memories: The art collector Carl Heumann and his family today.” My name is Melanie Wittchow. I am a provenance researcher at the Lenbachhaus in Munich.
Since 2019, we have recognized Provenance Research Day on the second Wednesday in April. This year we are also celebrating »1700 years of Jewish life in Germany«. On this occasion, we would like to talk about how provenance research helps keep memories alive.
We warmly welcome Carol Heumann Snider to this interview. She is the granddaughter of the art collector Carl Heumann from Chemnitz, Germany. We want to talk about him and his family today. Carol, thank you for joining us from Gig Harbor, Washington, USA. It's so nice to have you here today!
A warm welcome also to Katja Lindenau. She is a provenance researcher at the Kupferstich-Kabinett of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. I am very pleased that you are here today for our conversation about the art collector Carl Heumann.
More than two years ago, the museum in Dresden, together with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, called on those museums whose holdings include objects from the Carl Heumann art collection to recognize the fate of the art collector and his family and to work with the heirs of the family to get in touch. The aim is to find just and fair solutions with them regarding the works of art from the Carl Heumann collection.
Katja, you are one of the researchers in Germany who initiated this. Can you explain how and why it came about?
(The participants in the conversation on March 19, 2021 clockwise from top left to bottom right: Robin Knapp (technical support), Dr. Katja Lindenau (SKD), Carol Heumann Snider (granddaughter of Carl Heumann), Melanie Wittchow (Lenbachhaus)
Katja Lindenau (KL): With pleasure. In my work as a provenance researcher, I check the holdings of our museum for unlawful acquisition. One focus is on the years 1933 to 1945, when the National Socialists were in power in Germany and many works of art changed hands during this time. Much of it has been confiscated by the authorities or the owners have been forced to sell them. A few years ago, colleagues from other museums in Germany and Austria made me aware of the collection of the art collector and patron Carl Heumann.
While looking through our collection, I found two watercolor drawings by the Austrian artist Peter Fendi and an oil-on-paper drawing by Jakob Gensler showing a girl with a parrot. All three works were bought in 1944 by the art dealer C.G. Acquired Boerner in Leipzig. Bit by bit, I tried to find out more about the fate of the previous owner and how these works of art disappeared from his collection. In the end, we knew that Carl Heumann had not voluntarily sold these works, due to his Jewish origins, and we began to contact other museums and the heirs of Carl Heumann.
MW: That's how Katja and I came into contact, and I was able to find out that the Lenbachhaus had also acquired a work of art from Carl Heumann's private collection, namely the drawing "Fischerweide" by the artist Albert Emil Kirchner.
Albert Emil Kirchner, Fischerweide, 1854, pencil drawing, washed, 30.5 x 28.7 cm, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau Munich
KL: Carol, we spent months trying to put Carl Heumann's biography together. How and when did you find out about the fate of your grandfather Carl Heumann and your father Thomas Heumann? Did you talk about it in your family?
Carol Heumann Snider (CHS): When I was a child, we talked about my father's childhood. Since it was such a traumatic childhood, I think my father tried to protect us from the trauma he experienced himself. Paintings and watercolors hung on our walls. We knew where they came from. We knew that they came from his father, whom we of course never met. But we didn't know what my father was feeling and thought we just knew that they were from his homeland. Briefly about the background: It was obvious that my parents were immigrants. I knew my father was talking about a suitcase that he had with him when he came to the United States on the ship.
When we talked about his childhood it was mostly in situations where he couldn't escape us, and by that I mean, we were sitting in the car going to Lake Tahoe, for example, which was a four hour drive. We asked him to tell us stories. And he told us these charming stories, like when he and his brother nearly blew up the garage because they had misused their chemistry kit. Or how her little sister took a nap and they took a gingerbread cookie out of the oven and they said, "Oh, we burned your doll." I mean really funny little stories like these that every sibling does would tell.
But he never said, "I went and found my father's body and dug his grave."
These were things that we didn't find out until much later. It only started when I was going to college and my father suddenly felt the need to tell us more. He began to write his first book The Longest Year in the Young Life of Peter Bauer. I think it was easier for him to talk about his trauma in the third person and give himself a pseudonym so as not to have to use the pronoun "I.”.
Most of my childhood he just wanted to protect us. But that changed later.
Thomas Heumann with his four children, Carol Heumann Snider in the middle, 2008, photo: Ulli Heumann Hanley
MW: Can you tell us when and how you first found out that works of art from your grandfather's collection are in Austrian and German museums? How did the collaboration with the provenance researchers develop?
Maybe you can tell us a little bit about Julia Eßl's visit to the USA in 2014?
CSH: Yes, it was a very special day. I think it was January 22nd, 2014. I won't forget it. I woke up, checked my e-mail, and there was a message from a woman named Julia Eßl.She said she was a provenance researcher in Austria and she thinks she had found some works from my grandfather's collection, and asked if I would be willing to speak to her. It was very exciting for me because I had never met my grandfather and only heard stories about him. And now here was someone who seemed to know something about him. So, as a granddaughter interested in her family history, I picked it up straight away.
This was also preceded by a meeting that my father had organized for our family, at which he came into contact with his children, his nieces, his nephews and of course his sister Ulli, who lives in California. He wanted us all to come together because he wanted to leave us things from his past, as he put it "with warm hands,” before he dies.
(Thomas Heumann (left outside) with his sister Ulli (3rd from left) and her family, February 2017, Photo: Claudia Bilbao (Ulli's daughter)
CHS: Among them were some official documents such as my grandfather's Jewish “ID card” and his identity card with the “J” on it. Or a document that said he had been persecuted and that he had been in a labor camp.
He passed all these things on to his family members. It was just amazing to me, it really touched me, and I wanted to know who this person was.
So that was before Julia's email. When this email came my family was planning a trip to Germany and Austria. All six of us - we have four children.
And I said to Julia that we would be in Austria in a few months and asked if we could meet.
The most important thing that stuck in my memory when I met Julia Eßl in the Albertina in Vienna was that she took me to her office and there were three or four very wide binders on a bookshelf with "Carl Heumann" on the spine.
My first thought was, "How is it possible that someone, whom I don't know, knows my grandfather so well that entire binders can be filled with information about him?"
That just aroused the curiosity and excitement regarding my grandfather between Julia and me. We got along really well and became fast friends. After our visit in Vienna, she wrote to me and asked: “What do you think about a visit from me? And that was just the beginning of an absolutely wonderful time.”
When Julia first contacted me and said she had the opportunity to come to America, my father blocked it. But then he gave in and said, "Okay, well, I'll talk to her."
Julia came and spent three or four days with my father. They were best friends. My father couldn't show her enough things. He found a document here and another document there, they spoke German and they became dear, dear friends. When it was time for her to leave there were tears everywhere, including my father. So it was a 180 degree turn.
KL: Thank you, Carol, for this lively report on Julia Eßl's visit and the relationship between Julia and you and your father. We are both very grateful to Julia Eßl in Vienna and Hanna Strzoda in Berlin, who did a lot of research and thankfully shared their findings with us.
At the moment, three museums in Berlin, Dresden and Munich want to return works of art in the near future. Carol, you are the representative of the heirs. That means you speak for all the rightful heirs of your grandfather and regulate the communication between the members of your family and the museums regarding the restitution process. Can you tell us a little bit about what it means for your family to get back the works of art that were confiscated from your grandfather 80 years ago through persecution? We are particularly interested in what the younger generation thinks about it.
CHS: That's a really good question. In fact, as a family, we are grappling with this issue. First of all, the fact that part of the art is being restituted means everything to us because of our connection to our grandfather. This is a man we have never known, but whom we have heard of all our lives. My father spoke of him with great reverence and instilled that in us too, so we knew Carl was a wonderful man. We were sad that we didn't get to know him. This little thread of a connection from Carl to his grandchildren, to his great-grandchildren, means everything to us.
Restitution is a strange thing because it has this very strong emotional aspect. Then there is this logistical aspect. There may also be a financial aspect that we don't want to emphasize at all. But it always finds a way in.
I was the executor of my father's estate, which means that after his death, I took care of everything related to his estate. So I became the main point of contact. I brought his direct descendants, that is six people in the direct line, together. That's a very manageable amount of people to work with. But if you add the next generation, with all of our children, that number goes up to 23. So we kept it pretty small and made decisions together. We met digitally last year, but before that we visited each other.
(Thomas Heumann with Carol Heumann Snider's four children, 2012, photo: Carol Snider Heumann)
CHS: About two weeks ago my 30-year-old son came to visit. He is very interested in history and speaks fluent German. He asked how everything was going and I said, “Well, there are some pieces that are being returned to us and we'd like some of them because we'd like to see them on our walls. We would like to see others stay in Germany so that they can be appreciated by the people there. And maybe we want to sell one or two of them. We do not know yet."
My son, who is a very strong personality, replied, “Mom, I would like to be asked to come to the table when these things are discussed. I am also a heir to Carl. He's important to me too, and I think I'm speaking for my cousins when I say please don't make any decisions without us. "
Right now our challenge is how to deal with this issue. How can we respect the opinion of our adult children without turning it into a crazy situation? Perhaps we will talk to our children each time, get their opinion, and come back with a general opinion for our family. It's really important for us to include everyone, but it's not easy. This is where we are right now.
MW: Let's go back to your two blogs that you mentioned earlier. I always love it when someone says it's important to keep memories alive. But you're not just saying that, you're living this idea.
In your two blogs "Northwestladybug" and "Letters from Omi" you tell the story of your grandfather and your father. I especially like your blog Letters from Omi because I love the idea that the blog is aimed at your grandchildren. Each contribution begins with "Dear Grandchildren" and then you tell about family members who, of course, have never met them. This is a great thing to keep memories for the future.
Let's go back to the past one more time. Your grandfather, Carl Heumann was born on March 19, 1886 in Cologne to Jewish parents. He converted to Protestantism in 1917 when he met and married your grandmother,Irmgard, who was a Protestant. Nevertheless, Carl Heumann was regarded by the Nazis as a ”full Jew.” At first he was protected by his so-called privileged mixed marriage, but in 1938 he lost his job in his own bank, he had to pay the "Jewish property tax," and was not allowed to manage his own financial affairs. In short, he was persecuted by the National Socialist system. After the death of his wife in January 1944, he was even more vulnerable. Tragically, he was killed in the bomb attack on Chemnitz on March 5, 1945.
(Carl Heumann (middle) with his wife Irmgard and the children Thomas (left outside), Ulli (middle) and Rainer (right outside) in the Reichsstraße in Chemnitz, around 1940, anonym)
MW: Your father, Thomas Heumann, survived the Second World War. He left Germany in 1953 and went to the USA. He was also persecuted under National Socialism because of his status as a “Mischling, a so-called half-Jew.
Many Jewish people do not consider themselves religious, but define themselves by their Jewish origin. Can you tell us what role your Jewish origins played in your father's life? Are there any Jewish traditions or rituals that have been kept alive in your family to this day?
CHS: To be honest, I wish they existed. It's kind of strange for me to be the descendant of someone for whom his Jewish heritage played such a tragic role. It didn't kill him directly, but in some ways everything changed for my grandfather because of his Judaism.
When I was a child, I wanted to have a menorah for Christmas. We had one, but there was nothing behind it. Perhaps my father could have made some of the Jewish heritage his own. I think he could have done more research on his Jewish heritage and shared some of it with his children. But maybe I'm too hard on my dad because I think he had a great trauma and I think when he came to the US he wanted to leave it all behind. So the short answer is no. We celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. We never really celebrated anything related to Jewish heritage.
MW: Thank you Carol for giving us these insights into your family history. That’s so valuable. In our work as provenance researchers, it is wonderful to come into contact with the families and the heirs of the works of art. It is such a pleasant working relationship with you and your family. Thank you very much.
CHS: Thank you very much too! I really like working with both of you and everyone who has contacted us. If we can travel again, we would like to come to Germany, and it would be wonderful to meet everyone in person.
MW / KL: Yes, we'd love that too.
KL: I would also like to thank you, Carol, for your continued support in this very long process of research and restitution.
Through the posts in your blog, we got to know you and your family very well and also learned a lot more about Carl Heumann. But as I said, without the support of the other provenance researchers we would not have come this far, so once again a big thank you to the others who have supported us.
CHS: Yes, also from me. You have all been absolutely wonderful and some friendships have formed.
I would like to tell about another friendship. There was a man named Waldemar Ballerstedt in Chemnitz, who we think could have been a protector of my grandfather. You can read about it on my blog.
His grandson's wife just emailed me - I recently had an operation and she wrote to me, "Carol, we're thinking of you, get well."
So two or three generations later, there is a friendship between the descendants of a Nazi, who may have been my grandfather's protectorate, and the descendants of a persecuted German Jew.
It's just so heartwarming to me that we can forgive, forget and move on.
MW: Yes, that's great to hear. Really very touching.
KL: Nice! Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
CHS: I would like to tell you one more story.
I have a grandson, Leo, who is almost two years old. When he was very young, we showed him the picture of Sophia, a painting by Joseph Hauber from my grandfather's collection that had hung in my childhood home, and then in my parents’ houses, until my father’s death in 2017.
(Leo, the great-great-grandson of Carl Heumann in front of the painting "Sophia" from the Carl Heumann Collection, Chemnitz, 2021, photo: Carol Heumann Snider)
CHS: Leo looked at the picture and waved when he was just eight months old. It then became a tradition that when he slept in our house and woke up in the morning, the first thing he wanted to do was to say good morning to Sophia. And in the evening he insisted on saying good night to Sophia.
When Leo comes to visit now, the first thing he does is go to Sophia to say hello. To me, it's just the essence of everything we try to do to keep Carl's memory and story alive for future generations. Just seeing Leo look up while Sophia looks down at him - there is just this love bond that I can't explain. But the first few times it happened, I teared up. In my will, I will state that my grandson Leo gets the picture of Sophia so that he can have it on his walls when he grows up.
MW: Thank you for this wonderful story.