Skip to content

Do you accept the use of cookies to ensure a better experience on our website ?

Read more

The Museum during the Second World War

The museum was on the brink of inauguration shortly before the outbreak of hostilities, when the Luxembourgish government decided in 1939 to secure the collection. Following the occupation by German troops on 10 May 1940, the building was reused for several months to provide temporary shelter to displaced civilians and returnees from the Front by the Red Cross and the Wehrmacht authorities.

At the end of 1940, the museum was placed under Nazi civil authority directed by Gauleiter Gustav Simon, i.e. the Verwaltung der Höheren Kommunalverbandsangelegenheiten beim Chef der Zivilverwaltung.

The national socialist potentates conceived a specific design for the museum within the ideological framework of the Germanisation policy promoted under the slogan "Back into the Reich" ("Heim ins Reich"). It was planned for the museum to be considerably enlarged in order to serve as a showcase for the culture of Germany ("Volkstum"). The highflying venture was never undertaken though, due to the course of the war.

Nevertheless, the Nazi administration hired further staff for the museum. This intervention laid the foundations for the later development of professional museum services. In pursuit of the ideological cultural policy, the Gauleiter made funds available for the acquisition of objects, mainly from the context of Luxembourgish folklore, aiming to put together an ethnographic collection.

2.1. The acquisitions from 1940 to 1945

The inventories from 1940 to 1944 list about 450 inventory numbers. No entry was recorded in 1945. The total number of objects added to the collections is higher, since a single inventory number was often been assigned to multiple objects - at times more than 100. Over the course of the occupation about 3.500 objects were thus added the museum's collections, the large majority of which are folk objects with an average value of 60 Reichsmark per object. Only four objects were acquired for a price of more than 4.000 Reichsmark but never in excess of 9.000 Reichsmark. The expenses for acquisitions between 1940 and 1945 thus amount to roughly 200.000 Reichsmark.

Art works only have a small part to play among the acquired objects. Solely a hand full of paintings were purchased, directly related to the historic and ethnographic collections. These works, almost exclusively portraits, meet historical interest rather than artistic value, which often tends to be minor.

2.2. The inventories from 1940 to 1945

The MNHA is fully committed to establish complete transparency concerning the provenance of its collections. To this end, the museum published the whole inventories of the years of occupation online in 2006. We remain entirely at your disposal for any further information on this matter.

2.3. The Edmond Reiffers collection

The partial acquisition of the collection of the Luxembourgish notary Edmond Reiffers is an exception to the acquisition policy of the years of occupation. The acquisition and subsequent transfer of 39 artworks to the museum occurred in two stages in 1942 and 1944, respectively (Inv. 1942-74/1-16 and Inv. 1944-22/1-23), following the Gauleiter's orders. The total collection had included least 71 works at the outbreak of the war.

For the voluntary sale of 35 paintings and four sculptures, the collector Edmond Reiffers received 831.250 Reichsmark in total. This amount represents four times the value of all other acquisitions carried out during the occupation. The artworks in question are not linked to the history of Luxembourg at all, which is yet another exception.

According to our current state of knowledge, Edmond Reiffers put his collection together within a decade - from the early 1920s to the early 1930s.

37 paintings nowadays preserved at the MNHA have certainly belonged to Reiffers by 1935 at the latest. It is unlikely that he was even able to acquire other works after 1933, since his financial situation considerably worsened during the depression and the following economic crisis.

The purchase for the museum was carried out despite the overwhelmingly negative assessment of German experts consulted beforehand, notwithstanding the fact that the artworks were not linked to Luxembourg and thus formed an isolated element within the museum's collections. The museum was not involved in the negotiations. It seems that the museum's executives' advice was not sought either. Rather, the purchase was prompted by the internal politics of occupation: the grave consequences of this collector's bankruptcy could have put the regime's stability at risk.

The inventory of the artworks from the Edmond Reiffers collection belonging to the MNHA was published in 1967. See Joseph-Emile Muller, Catalogue des Peintures anciennes. Luxemburg, 1967 and Catalogue des Peintures anciennes. 2nd edition 1976. Luxemburg, 1976 for further information.

For the turbulent history of the collection and its partial purchase, see Michel Polfer, Nationalsozialistische Kulturpolitik oder Herrschaftsstabilisierung? Zum Ankauf der Kunstsammlung des Luxemburger Notars Edmond Reiffers durch die deutsche Zivilverwaltung, in: Du Luxembourg à l'Europe. Hommages à Gilbert Trausch à l'occasion de son 80e anniversaire, edited by Jacques P. Leider, Jean-Marie Majerus, Michel Polfer, and Marc Schoentgen. Luxembourg, 2011, p. 327-359.

A shortened version by Michel Polfer, Die Sammlungen der Musées de l'Etat unter deutscher Besatzung (1940-1945): Zum Ankauf der Kunstsammlung des Luxemburger Notars Edmond Reiffers durch die deutsche Zivilverwaltung, can be found in Empreintes. Annuaire du Musée national d'histoire et d'art Luxembourg 4/2011 (2012), p. 52-65.