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Article in Time magazine, August 21, 1939
Monday, Aug. 21, 1939
No one walking along Heerengracht Canal, Amsterdam, fortnight ago, would have bothered to look twice at No. 412. Four stories high, of dull sandstone, the modest building had no name plate by its door. Nor was there anything spectacular inside, just 30 quiet employees working amidst a lot of papers.
No one would have turned his head for a second look at four people and a rabbi waiting for a flowerless hearse in a small cemetery near Paris last week. Yet those were the headquarters and that was the funeral of one of the richest men in the world, a man who by floating loans could keep whole countries from sinking, whose death and its subsequences may cause a political crisis in France. This financial emperor was a fat-lipped, mean, noxious, cigar-smoking German Jew, (see note) one of whose mistresses had a gold bathtub and who, after 20 years in The Netherlands, could not speak enough Dutch to boss his own chauffeur. His name was Dr. Fritz Mannheimer. No one ever liked Fritz. He was too smart. During the War, barely out of college, he got a job in the German Government bureau directing the flow of raw materials through Germany. In no time, he headed it. At 27 he persuaded Belgian industrialists to accept the paper currency issued in occupied territory. After the War he managed Germany's central monetary office, where his first job was to organize the Amsterdam branch of the famous, 125-year-old Mendelssohn & Co. Bank. The branch grew bigger than the tree. At 30, Fritz Mannheimer set up Mendelssohn & Co., Amsterdam, as an independent bank, made himself its head.
From then on, Fritz Mannheimer was a regular E. Phillips Oppenheim character. Mysterious (few people even knew his name), powerful, grasping, he began to formulate the financial policies of nations and to get fat. At one time he worked simultaneously for the German, Austrian, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Yugoslav and Rumanian Central Banks. Twice he turned down the presidency of the German Reichsbank, the second time proposed Dr. Hjalmar Schacht in his place. Schacht got the job. He began to buy antiques—among them the valuable Eucharistic Dove stolen from Salzburg's Cathedral.
He was too skeptical to have any truck with Ivar Kreuger or any private financier. His was the last Jewish-owned bank allowed to do business in Germany. For some time he has been the brains behind France's Finance Minister Paul Reynaud, in his effort to stop the flow of gold from France to the U. S. In the process, Mannheimer's health broke, his weight dropping from 264 to 143 Ibs. But Paul Reynaud was grateful, served as best man when, only eight weeks ago, the dying financier surprised everyone by marrying a tall, dark, 21-year-old Brazilian girl named Marie Antoinette Reiss. The marriage was as doomed as Fritz Mannheimer's bank. The groom had a heart attack during the ceremony, was revived with two injections to get through it. Recently he fainted in the French Finance Ministry. Twenty-four hours after his death the bank announced it was suspending payments. Immediately Paul Reynaud announced that the French Government was in no way affected, that all Mendelssohn contracts had been carried out. But in Wall Street money wiseacres suspected that Mendelssohn's crash might bring down with it many another European banking house. Fritz Mannheimer was typical of Europe's post-War financiers—too ambitious to be dismayed by the wreckage that demoralized older economists, too tough to be rebuffed by the snubs and cuts of a decaying financial aristocracy, slippery enough to make his way through the crevices that appeared as the social structure cracked under war strain. Adroit to the end, he died before his bank closed its doors.
Notes by KK:
Note 1. The easy flow of anti-jewish innuendo. Quite acceptable in 1939 even in NYC.
Note 2. Marie Antoinette Reiss married Mannheimer and alas soon became hiss widow, according to Dutch family names known as Marie-Annette Mannheimer - Reiss. She was then just pregnant, and fled successfully first south to her villa in Nice, France where their baby Anne France (Annette) was born in 1939, and then they emigrated to the USA, where Marie-Annette became married with the wealthy industrialist Charles W. Engelhard, jr. Thereafter she became widely known as Jane Engelhard, the philanthropist (1917-2004); obviously baby Annette was then adopted by Charles Engelhard. Note the Engelhard wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Note 3. E. Phillips Oppenheim was an English novelist, who also died in 1939. During his lifetime he was a major and successful writer of genre fiction including thrillers.
Annex 4: Mannheimer objects destroyed in the London Blitz, 1940 (see web site)
In 1939 the Deutsche Reichsbank took over the complete assets of the Mendelssohn & Co. Bank, liquidating the latter and therefore becoming the full legal owner of almost all of the art objects Manheimmer had collected. Almost – because just before his death on 9 August 1939, for safe-keeping, Mannheimer had moved key pieces of art to the Chenue firm based both in London and to Paris, and either legally or illegally had put them in his wife’s name. These Parisian items were well stored and cared for at the Chenue branch. Prior to that, there were also a group of furniture, some art objects and probably also some paintings and drawings located in their well-designed second home, their villa in Vaucresson near Versailles. After the attack on France the Nazis started collecting. All of the art works and furniture transported to Paris and Vaucresson were traced and seized by the Nazis, the sum-total of the most coveted items being 27 paintings and 18 drawings. (This paragraph is taken from the main article. Full Mannheimer article, 9200 words, without notes, or a separate PDF included with 130 notes.
In the Dutch National Archive, The Hague there is a three-page inventory list of Mannheimer objects destroyed in the London Blitz. It does not contain the Rijksmuseum triptych discussed above inv. nr. BK-17045 (Fig. 6). But the existence of two triptychs gave rise to a mix-up before WWII.
According to some pre-war sources, the triptych now in Amsterdam was identified as the private travelling altar of Mary, Queen of Scots. It was initially exhibited in 1906 and 1913, then catalogued by Otto von Falke. After its purchase by Mannheimer, this triptych was initially inventoried in 1934 by Artistic, valued at f 13,500. In 1936 it was again catalogued by Von Falke in Amsterdam with its correct size, but incorrectly as stemming from Mary Queen of Scots. The object was again entered in the Rijksmuseum list of 1939/40 (Fig. 10 below), and also correctly catalogued in handwriting in the 1952 Rijksmuseum inventory book. Knowledge about the early provenance of this triptych was expanded in a Louvre exhibition catalogue of 2004.
The Mary, Queen of Scots information fitted another triptych also owned by Mannheimer, presently known as the ‘Campion triptych’ now in the Jesuit Centre Campion Hall, Oxford. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London in 1987. This triptych is a small object for focusing devotional prayer. In 1939 it had been stored in a London bank safe together with 35 other Mannheimer treasures. Miraculously this small object survived the Blitz, when the bank safe on Chancery Lane was directly hit by German bombs on the night of 23-24 September 1940. The safe disintegrated, destroying about 35 art objects. Among these lost works were two drawings then attributed to Jan van Eyck, showing ‘royal persons’. Two similar drawings in the Boijmans museum originating from the same sale are now attributed not to Van Eijck but to a follower of Van der Weijden.
The gold triptych however survived and had been picked up from between the rubble and pocketed by either a workman or sailor, together with the so called ‘Donatello’ Boy. Korthals Altes mentions the fate of the three, perhaps five art objects thus found by chance in the rubble. All of these objects, except for the triptych were sold at a public auction to offset the cost of storage by the British authorities (Fig. 11). Korthals Altes also describes how this triptych changed hands, first being sold for five pounds to a second-hand store, and then in 1965, after much wrangling it changed hands for 2,500 pounds. O’Connell described its full history and provenance in 2013.
Below: Letter in Rijksarchief, coll SNK, by Rosenbaum 1939, (on behalf of Chenue, London) to Ms Mannheimer, here already called 'Jane'.
A comparable object now in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, representing the best objects ever made in Meissen. Other objects like it got bombed out in London.
Also found in the rubble during the London blitz, picked up and bought later on for the Rijksmuseum:
Anonymous, initially attributed to Donatello, Boy, right hand on chest, nude sculpture, bronze, on a green marble base, originally from the Hermitage, inv. nr. BK-16946, was valued in 1948 at f 100,000 and acquired as late as 1960. It was picked up from the rubble after the Blitz bomb in London, on the night of 23-24 September 1940, see annex 4. See also Fig. 1.
My notes made from Dutch archival material: in Rijksarchief, The Hague, SNK, Bureau herkomst.
A court document of five pages, dated June 29, 1951 with a history in 34 points, by Mr. Everhardu Korthals Altes to the Judicial Division of the Council for Redress (Raad voor het Rechtsherstel).
"that after the London deposited items in a bomb explosion, proved to be almost all destroyed in November 1940, followed by heavy fire in the vault, where these were stored, with the exception of three items, which were sold by the Enemy Property Custodian, and an antique gilded and enamelled travelling altar in the form of a triptych, which apparently was looted and got in foreign hands, and was refurfacing by a collector in Ireland; "
Letter Rijksmuseum on SNK 2 Nov 1948
4 boxes sealed by the Dutch Customs with Mannheimer goods, 27/28 paintings plus drawings, Mannheimer items from Paris. In Paris the collection was stored at Chenue firm, 5 Rue de la Terrasse.
Transferred by military truck/car from The Hague to Rijksmuseum.
"dat, de na de te Londen gedeponeerde voorwerpen bij een bominslag, gevolgd door hevige brand in de kluis, waarin zijn opgeborgen waren, in November 1940 nagenoeg alle vernietigd bleken te zijn met uitzondering van drie zaken, die door den Enemy Property Custodian te gelde zijn gemaakt, en een antiek verguld en geemailleerd reisaltaar in de vorm van een triptiek, dat blijkbaar door plundering in vreemde handen is geraakt en bij een verzamelaar in Ierland is aangetroffen;"
Brief Rijksmuseum aan SNK, 2 nov 1948
4 door de douane verzegelde kisten met Mannheimer, 27/28 schilderijen plus tekeningen Mannheimer afkomstig uit Parijs. In Parijs stond de collectie bij Fa Chenue, 5 Rue de la Terrasse.
Per militaire auto overgebracht van Den Haag naar Rijksmuseum.
Below: Lost for the Rijksmuseum. A bomb hit a bank vault in the London Blitz, London: the tryptich is now in Campion Hall. The full story of loss and retrieval is in the hagiography written by H.J.A. Sire, Father Martin D'Arcy: Philosopher of Christian Love, 1997 p. 147-148.
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