Museum rejoices as documents come back to Görlitz 111 years later

I couldn’t have expected such a joyous reaction from the museum staff in Görlitz when earlier this May we returned some documents that have been lurking away in the family archives for many years.

Kaiser Wilhelm II signed this unmistakably Prussian-looking document bestowing the title of Kommerzienrat (Commercial Councillor) on Martin Ephraim on 16 May 1904, in the days when Ephraim was a very big cheese in town, building the railway station and an art gallery, as well as opening the synagogue. We also handed over a similar document for Lesser Ephraim.

Two of the documents bestow the rank of Kommerzienrat (Commercial Councillor) upon my great-great-grandfather Lesser Ephraim in 1875 and his son Martin Ephraim in 1903. They are signed at the Neues Palais in Potsdam by the respective Kaisers of the time –Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II.

Both of these Ephraims were successful industrialists who put Görlitz on the map. It seemed only right that these documents honouring their achievements should be kept in safekeeping in the town museum. Besides, recent visits of mice in our attic have persuaded me that the Kaiser’s signatures might not exist for posterity if we keep these imposing-looking bits of paper up there much longer.

sm Magistrate document 1903 Martin EphraimEphraim’s grand gesture: the Fröhlich Collection

What I hadn’t appreciated was the importance of the third, less spectacular-seeming document (pictured on the right) from the Magistrate in Görlitz, and written in very pleasing but totally impenetrable calligraphy.

Only when Kai Wenzel and Ines Anders of the town museum within the Kaisertrutz gave us a tour around their wonderfully reorganised collection did we get the story, that this was a thanks from the town to Martin Ephraim for his generous endowment of items for the museum. No wonder they were glad to have them: the document confirms the very setting up of the museum itself.

Martin Ephraim gave the hugely valuable Fröhlich Collection of art, applied art and peasant artifacts from Bautzen to the town. He also contributed to the funding of a purpose-built gallery, and purchased cabinets for it. The gallery – the Dom Kultury or Ruhmeshalle – still stands on the Polish side of town, in the part known as Zgorzelec. I wandered over the bridge and found it much as it looked on my previous visit in 2001: a huge neoclassical Tate Gallery of a place, except it’s totally empty. More about that in a future post.

All a bit sad, and I’m afraid a lot of the Fröhlich Collection that Martin Ephraim donated got swiped by the Nazis and then the Russians.

Happily a few things remain, within the museums that occupy the German side of town, including his portrait and a sculpture that stood in Ephraim’s villa grounds.

How pleasing, then, to restore something back to its rightful place.

What the Magistrate said

Ines Anders has sent me this transcription of the Magistrate’s document, evidently written in very formal German. The gist of it is that the Magistrate conveys thanks to Martin Ephraim for his charitable gesture in donating the  Fröhlich Collection of antiquities, arts and crafts, as well as the display cabinets, and that the town looks forward to the opening of the Kaiser Friederich Museum to the public.

Görlitz, den 6. Dezember 1903

Magistrat zu Görlitz

Journal  No. II 3406/03

Die durch die sachkundige Hand des Direktor Feyerabend vorgenommene Sichtung der von Ihnen dem Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum geschenkten Fröhlich´schen Sammlung kunstgewerblicher Altertümer und die verständnisvolle Vorbereitung zur Aufstellung in den außerordentlich zweckmäßig eingerichteten und für das Auge gefälligen, ebenfalls von Ihnen geschenkten Schränken bringt uns erst jetzt zum vollen Bewußtsein, welche wertvolle Bereicherung unser Museum durch Ihre Güte erfahren hat. Wir hoffen, dass in einigen Monaten die Aufstellung beendet sein wird und freuen uns schon jetzt auf den Zeitpunkt, in welchem wir mit einem würdigen Akt diesen Teil des Kaiser Friedrich Museums der Öffentlichkeit zugänglich machen werden. Einstweilen aber wollen wir es uns nicht versagen, Ihnen für Ihre auf dem Gebiete der Wohltätigkeit sowohl, wie auf dem der Kunst schon so oft bewiesenen gemeinnützige Gesinnung auch bei dieser Veranlassung herzlich zu danken

Signed by Oberbürgermeister Büchtemann and Bürgermeister Heyne

One of the cabinets donated by Martin Ephraim for the Ruhmeshalle, and now in the Baroque Museum


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In the Kaisertrutz, Görlitz: Martin Ephraim’s portrait together with a few surviving items from the vast Fröhlich Collection he donated. The portrait he presented to the town but when the Nazis came in 1933 they gave it back to him; happily it’s now back in its rightful place.

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This bust once stood in the Ephraim’s villa grounds (now the very lovely youth hostel). It’s signed at the back by a sculptor called Bisi – we also have a figurine of the Ephraim daughter Vera (my grandmother) as a young dancer. Bisi was the brother in law of Janni (Marianne), one of the other Ephraims.


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The moment I laid out the documents inside the Kaisertrutz for the museum staff, Kai Wenzel and Ines Anders.

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Kai Wenzel outside the Kaisertrutz

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Porcelain donated by Martin Ephraim as part of the Fröhlich Collection.

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In the Baroque Museum is the finest Ephraim-donated artefact to remain, this devotional panel showing the Adoration of Christ, made in Augsburg by Zacharias Lencker in 1609










































2 thoughts on “Museum rejoices as documents come back to Görlitz 111 years later

  1. I’ll be writing about the empty museum building in a later post – there’s a lot of reading to do about it first, and it’s all in German! It’s actually in surprisingly good nick inside, since anyone can walk in unsupervised. Pity the bronze statue of German Motherhood disappeared when thieves swiped it ten years ago. When I saw it previously I was intrigued by the idea that the sculptor might have been the brother in law of my great aunt (Marianne Neumeyer, who became Marianne Bisi)- her brother in law sculpted Vera Neumeyer – a figurine we have at home – and it’s very much in the same style.

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