Joerg Schillinger can be showing me around the extravagant foyer of the head office of frozen pizza along with processed foods firm, Dr Oetker – complete which has a winding marble staircase along with Victorian grandfather clock – when he points to a former chief executive’s bronze bust.
“This specific can be Dr Richard Kaselowsky,” says the manager, before adding, which has a hint of embarrassment: “Unfortunately, he was a strong Nazi.”
The 126-year-old company, a household name in Germany along with beyond, has done more than most to face up to what Mr Schillinger calls the “dark shadow” of its activities from the 1930s along with 1940s.
A few years ago, the family-owned firm enlisted prominent historians to write a book chronicling the relationship between former boss Rudolf-August Oetker – a member of the Waffen SS – along with the Third Reich.
the idea revealed how Dr Oetker had supported the war effort by providing pudding mixes along with munitions to Nazi troops, along with how the business had used slave labour in some of its facilities.
at This specific point, in a rarer move, the company can be turning its attention to a more tangible reminder of former sins – its vast private art collection.
In a floor-to-ceiling library at Dr Oetker’s sprawling headquarters from the North-Rhine Westphalian city of Bielefeld, Dr Monika Bachtler reveals one of its treasures – a resplendent 17th Century silver goblet.
“the idea’s a typical German silversmith’s piece,” says the white-gloved curator of the Oetker collection, “made in Augsburg in 1612”.
The goblet originally belonged to Emma Budge, a wealthy Jewish socialite, philanthropist along with art-lover through Hamburg. the idea was part of an impressive collection forcibly auctioned off by the Nazis from the early 1930s, including porcelain figures by Kaendler along with paintings by van Loo.
This specific particular piece of silverware’s troubling provenance was discovered as a consequence of a voluntary audit of Dr Oetker’s own collection.
The collection, which includes some some 4,500 priceless pieces, scattered across several, secret locations, was mostly purchased by Rudolf-August Oetker, who was a renowned art enthusiast.
The company’s board, which includes members of the Oetker family, commissioned the audit in 2015. So far, just four artworks have been restored to their rightful owners – including the windmill-shaped goblet.
Dr Oetker can be tight-lipped about the precise value of the goblet – for which the Budge estate elected to receive financial compensation – yet different items from the Budge collection are worth as much as £270,000, according to Lothar Fremy, one of just a dozen or so lawyers in Germany who represent heirs of Nazi confiscated art.
Mr Fremy, a Berliner who represents the Budge heirs, says few cases are carried out This specific smoothly.
“Sometimes the idea’s like a big puzzle you have to put together,” he explains. “Between 1933 along with 1945, hundreds of thousands of items were sold, the market was flooded with artefacts.”
Tracing their origin can be a process which will take “10, 20 or 30 years easily”, he says.
In This specific case, thanks to the meticulous paperwork left behind by Nazi bureaucrats, a comprehensive catalogue of the forced auction of the Budge collection exists, complete with images of most items.
This specific allowed Mr Fremy to enter the details of more than 1,000 items through the catalogue onto lootedart.com, an online registry for the return of stolen cultural objects.
yet although many items through the Budge collection have been found in galleries, including Meissen porcelain figures at the V&A in London, the idea can be rarer for private collections – let alone those owned by corporations – to voluntarily examine their inventory for a match to an artefact on the online database.
The widely-followed principles for returning Nazi-confiscated art, outlined after a conference in Washington in 1998, are largely focused on public institutions.
Private collectors, Mr Fremy says, have generally not felt inclined to look too closely into the origins of their prized possessions.
Yet the return of stolen items through the Budge collection along with beyond, he says, can be becoming more common.
“Ten or 12 years ago, the idea wasn’t a warm or co-operative reception,” says Mr Fremy, reminiscing about early approaches to individuals who may have been in possession of stolen art, “yet in general the idea’s getting better.”
Back in Bielefeld, Dr Oetker’s researchers say the idea may take decades to determine how many more items in its collection are due for restitution.
yet Joerg Schillinger hopes that will different German companies, among which huge art collections are not uncommon, will follow the frozen food firm’s lead.
“the idea’s a pity that will there are still some companies that will haven’t stepped into their history,” he says. “We were quite late, 70 years after the war, yet we are very happy that will we did the idea.”
His recommendation to different businesses?
“Just do the idea, for the sake of your company along with for the sake of the stakeholders.”