Child’s rattle in the shape of a stork, silver, bone, 15.30 cm x 5.10 cm x 2.40 cm, inv. no.: S 4235
© Stadtmuseum Berlin | Reproduction: Dorin Alexandru Ionita, Berlin

The Märkisches Museum’s “Special Silver Inventory”

Nearly five hundred silver pieces, including spoons, charm bracelets, children’s rattles and other objects, are stored in a metal cabinet in the Stadtmuseum Berlin’s collection depot. The objects originate from compulsory levies placed on Jewish people from 1939 onwards, and provide insight into a project that the Stadtmuseum Berlin has been carrying out since 1996 to clarify the provenance of each individual object.

by Elina Miagkovaitė

While these items cannot currently be traced back to their original owners, the silver holdings that Jews were forced to relinquish are a painful testament to the history of the millions who fell victim to the Holocaust. Since 1996, the Stadtmuseum Berlin has been researching the provenance of these silver objects, both to evaluate the museum’s own past with a critical eye and to make information available to the public.

In 2019, a digitisation project was launched with financial support from the then Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe to make the card index of the “Special Silver Inventory” public for provenance research and other interested parties.

History of the “Special Silver Inventory”

The “Third Decree for the Reporting of Jewish-Owned Property” from 21st February 1939, in accordance with the “First Ordinance to the Reich Citizenship Law [Reichsbürgergesetz]”, obliged Jewish people to hand over “objects made of gold, platinum or silver as well as precious stones and pearls within two weeks of the entry into force of this Ordinance” to public pawnshops throughout the Reich1. As the owners of these objects received very little compensation, this can only be viewed as an act of theft. The silver was melted down and stored in bars at the Reichsbank in Berlin.

The then director of the Märkisches Museum, Dr Walter Stengel (1882-1960), was likely the only person given the opportunity to select artistically valuable objects from the large collection and save them from being melted down. The reasons for their actions remain unknown.

Fork, three-pronged, with decorated handle 20.70 cm x 2.70 cm Inv. no.: S 4656 d
© Stadtmuseum Berlin | Reproduction: Dorin Alexandru Ionita, Berlin
From 21st June 1939 to 6th October 1941, the Märkisches Museum acquired around 5,000 forcibly relinquished objects from the Berlin branches of the municipal pawnshop and from the Reich’s central purchasing office.

The items, which range from spoons to ceremonial goblets, were produced between the Middle Ages and the 1920’s.

Walter Stengel described these actions in the Märkisches Museum’s acquisition book, published in 1941:

“Special grants from the treasury made it possible to bring together a whole history of the development of the silver cake spoon alongside later examples and, more generally, to present a unique series on the silver culture of the last 150 years. This was a one-of-a-kind rescue operation. During the arduous, weeks-long work of inspection, the undersigned was supported in particular by Mr Paul Kothe, the city’s chief architect. Dr Wolfgang Scheffler was responsible for cataloguing the pieces saved from melting down and the picture card index (over 3000 photographs) was assembled by Mrs Titze”2.

The circumstances under which the valuable objects recovered in this “rescue operation” came into circulation in the first place do not appear to be of any concern to the director. A special inventory comprising of two volumes was created in the collection, whose inventory numbers begin with the letter ’S’. These volumes were apparently compileddue to the high number of new objects received. In addition, the objects were not the property of the museum but rather of the city of Berlin. Some silver objects from Jewish ownership listed in the regular inventory.
Dinner knife, silver-plated, steel blade; 2.00 cm x 18.70 cm, inv. no.: S 4667 b
© Stadtmuseum Berlin | Reproduction: Dorin Alexandru Ionita, Berlin

The findings obtained from the research on the forcibly relinquished silver objects were included in several scholarly works by Walter Stengel and Wolfgang Scheffler. These works fail to mention the provenance unlawful seizure and transfer of these objects to the Märkisches Museum. In a macabre twist, one of the books by Wolfgang Scheffler has become a standard work on Berlin goldsmiths3.


The Second World War began while the silver was still being acquired. When the Märkisches Museum was closed and gradually cleared out at the end of 1939, the silver collection also had to be removed from storage. While the subsequent destination of the silver objects is a matter of speculation, it can be assumed, based on a slim binder containing lists of ten boxes with silver objects, that they ended up in the Reichsbank. Of almost 5,000 documented objects, just under 500 of little material value survived after the Second World War. The whereabouts of the more than 4,000 missing objects are not known to this date.

After 1945, the silver objects and their history were deliberately not communicated. Outside the directorate, the museum staff did not know that the silver objects still existed. Officially, there were also no longer any historical inventory books, they were supposedly burnt in 19454.

It was only around 1989, against the backdrop of the merger of the Märkisches Museum with the Berlin Museum, that the objects received renewed attention. During the 1992 exhibition “The Other Half” in Martin-Gropius-Bau, the public learned for the first time about the Märkisches Museum’s Jewish-owned silver holdings. Four years later, the Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin launched a documentation project to examine the inventory book, photo card index and surviving silver inventory. This involved gathering sources, identifying the existing inventory and researching the processes that led to its creation. Dr Marlies Coburger published the results of the project in a comprehensive study5.


In 2021, the case of the Märkisches Museum’s unlawful possession of looted property, which came to light in 1993, was brought  to an end. Through an amicable settlement with the Jewish Claims Conference as the legal successor to the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, a fair and just solution was found in accordance with principle 9 of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art. The remaining silver objects are now property of the Stadtmuseum Berlin, rather than merely being in its custodianship. The Stadtmuseum Berlin is committed to using the silver objects to make the history of ostracism, deprivation of rights, looting and possible restitution public.

The “Special Silver Inventory” today

In addition to the almost 500 silver objects that it holds, the Stadtmuseum Berlin has preserved almost all of the documentation on this collection: 3,000 index cards and 1,500 photo cards of objects, as well as Volume 2 of the special inventory. The contents of Volume 1 can largely be reconstructed by the access numbers on the index cards. These cards make it possible to gain a detailed impression of the scope and structure of the largely lost collection. They were systematically arranged in 18 folders according to groups of works.

Most of the index cards also contain photographs of the objects. The pre-printed sheets in DIN A5 landscape format are divided into 14 columns with fields such as ‘object’, ‘material’, ‘marks’ and ‘signature’. The unlabelled columns were filled out in detail primarily by Wolfgang Scheffler. The fields ‘type of acquisition’, ‘origin’ and ‘location’, however, are mostly empty. The index cards have entry numbers, which can be used to determine their approximate date of arrival at the Märkisches Museum, as well as outline numbers, which indicate affiliation to individual groups of works.

The silver objects are measured in the depot of the Stadtmuseum Berlin.
© Stadtmuseum Berlin | Photo: Elina Miagkovaite
The working cards digitized in the course of the 2019 digitisation project provide valuable information for provenance research and further questions of contemporary history. With its online publication, the Stadtmuseum Berlin also seeks to raise public awareness of active and critical examination of local Nazi history. The most important concern of the publication remains the hope that the silver objects will be identified by victims and their surviving relatives and that looted objects can be returned.

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Heber mit glatter, lanzettenartiger Form und Weinlaub-Dekor
© Stadtmuseum Berlin

Online collection

The digitised holdings from the “Special Silver Inventory” can be viewed at the Stadtmuseum Berlin’s online collection (in German).

Stadtmuseum Berlin on the road

A selection of the silver objects will be on display from 22 March 2024 to 26 January 2025 as part of the exhibition “Loot – 10 Stories” at the Humboldt Forum.


1 RGBl I 1939, p. 282.
Stengel, Walter, Märkisches Museum. Kulturgeschichtliche und Stadtgeschichtliche Erwerbungen 1939–1940, Issue 12, Berlin 1941, p. 44-45.
Stengel, Walter, Technik-Miscellen Uhren und Berlocken, Quellen-Studien zur Berliner Kulturgeschichte, published by Märkisches Museum Berlin 1950; Stengel, Walter, Zucker und Zuckergerät, Quellen-Studien …, Berlin 1952; Stengel, Walter, Zur Geschichte der Berliner Goldschmiedekunst, in: Jahrbuch Stiftung Stadtmuseum III 1997, Berlin 1999, p. 17-111; Wolfgang Scheffler, Berliner Goldschmiede. Daten Werke Zeichen, Berlin 1968.
Hampe, Herbert, Aus der Geschichte des Märkischen Museums, in: Beeskow, Hans-Joachim, Hampe, Herbert und Hühns, Erik [publisher], Das Märkische Museum und seine Sammlungen: Festgabe zum 100jährigen Bestehen des kulturhistorischen Museums der Hauptstadt der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik im Jahre 1974, Berlin 1974, p. 11.
Coburger, Marlies, Der Silberschatz im Märkischen Museum, in: Jahrbuch Stiftung Stadtmuseum IV 1998, Berlin 2000, p. 223-272.

Further reading

  • Coburger, Marlies, Der Silberschatz im Märkischen Museum, in: Jahrbuch Stiftung Stadtmuseum IV 1998, Berlin 2000, p. 223-272.
  • Coburger, Marlies, Neues zum “Silberschatz im Märkischen Museum”, in: Jahrbuch Stiftung Stadtmuseum X 2004/2005, Berlin 2005, p. 59-72.
  • Coburger, Marlies, Grapenthin, Steffi, Zum zwangsabgelieferten Silber aus jüdischem Besitz im Märkischen Museum. Nur eine didaktisch angelegte Mustersammlung?, in: Sabine Schulze/Silke Reuther (publisher), Tagungsband Raubkunst? Silber aus ehemals jüdischem Besitz – wie gehen Museen damit um? Symposium anlässlich der Ausstellung “Raubkunst? Provenienzforschung zu den Sammlungen des Museums für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg”, Hamburg 2016, p. 30-35.
  • Scheffler, Wolfgang, Berliner Goldschmiede. Daten Werke Zeichen, Berlin 1968.
  • Stengel, Walter, Märkisches Museum. Kulturgeschichtliche und Stadtgeschichtliche Erwerbungen 1939–1940, issue 12, Berlin 1941, p. 44-47.
  • Weinland, Martina, Spurensuche in der Silbersammlung des Stadtmuseums Berlin, in: Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste (publisher), Provenienzforschung in deutschen Sammlungen – Einblicke in zehn Jahre Projektförderung, Schriftenreihe Provenire, vol. 1, Berlin/ Boston 2019, p. 19-26.