Steindorff artifacts to remain at University of Leipzig


BERLIN (JTA) — A collection of Egyptian artifacts unearthed 96 years ago by Jewish Egyptologist Georg Steindorff and forcibly sold under the Nazis will remain at the University of Leipzig.

The agreement worked out between the university and the Claims Conference was announced Wednesday.

The decision follows public protests against a recent Berlin court order that the objects be handed over to the Claims Conference, which had fought to reclaim them as stolen Jewish property since the unification of former East and West Germany in 1990, Bloomberg reported.

An heir of Steindorff came forward recently to say the objects should remain in Leipzig.

The university has formally agreed that the collection — including a medical papyrus and a limestone head of Queen Nefertiti — was a loss of property due to persecution, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the Claims Conference.

The university will keep the collection and, instead of paying compensation, will devote time and funds toward a documentation of the life and work of Steindorff, who was appointed chair of the Egyptology department in 1893. The collection reportedly will include Steindorff’s explanatory charts and will detail the persecution Steindorff endured before his emigration in 1939. The university also has pledged to create a Holocaust education program.

Steindorff was born in 1861 in Dessau, Germany. As the university’s chief Egyptologist in 1915, he excavated the objects in question in the Giza plateau. Egyptian law then allowed the excavator to keep half of what was found.

Steindorff retired in 1934. Under the Nazi regime, he was forced to sell his private collection at an artificially low price; the university has owned the collection since 1937.

The agreement follows a Berlin Administrative Court ruling on May 26 that the university must return the collection to the Claims Conference as unclaimed Jewish property.

Following local protests, talks between the Claims Conference and the university resulted in an "amicable agreement" satisfactory to all parties, according to the Claims Conference chair Julius Berman.

Though the objects will not leave Leipzig, the Berlin court judgment "sends a special signal to all museums, galleries and auction houses" that they must research the provenance of their collections, said Roman Haller, director of the Claims Conference in Germany.

“The circumstances under which the cultural assets reached the museums must be transparent; we owe this to the victims,” Haller said.

Steindorff’s grandson, Thomas Hemer, 88, traveled from Nevada to his Leipzig birthplace to argue that the objects should remain at the institute that his grandfather had cherished, Bloomberg reported.

Prior to the agreement, Egyptian Minister for Antiquities Zahi Hawass reportedly also contacted the Claims Conference demanding that the objects be returned to Egypt.

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