Julius Priester, born on September 4, 1870 in Wolschy, Bohemia, was a wealthy industrialist and art collector in Vienna who as a result of Nazi persecution fled to Mexico in 1938 with his wife Camilla Priester geb. Robicek. The entire contents of his apartment was packed up and stored with Speditionsfirma Max Föhr. In February 1944, Mr. Priester’s possessions including paintings were seized by the Gestapo from Max Föhr’s depot in Vienna.
Although it is not exactly clear what happened to Mr. Priester’s paintings once they were seized, it is reasonable to assume that the VUGESTA, the “Verwertungsstelle für jüdisches Umzugsgut der Gestapo”, was involved in their disposal. The VUGESTA was created in September 1940 as the administrative entity responsible for assessing, selling and subsequently accounting for the sale of household effects Viennese Jews intended to ship abroad. In essence: the VUGESTA assessed what was with the shipping agents and then confirmed with the Gestapo what could be seized, preparing the appropriate paperwork, only some of which has survived. It is interesting to note that by year-end 1942, the VUGESTA’s role changed largely but not exclusively from the administration of the sale of assets owned by those who emigrated to the assessment and disposal of assets owned by those who were to be or had been deported. By all accounts, this change brought with it more streamlined paperwork, much less of which has survived.
On May 20, 1947, Max Föhr, through Mr. Priester’s solicitor Dr. Erich Goglia, filed a report -- an Ammeldung entzogener Vermögen -- with the Austrian authorities, claiming lost furnishings and works of art. Attached with this filing was a list of 51 of Mr. Priester’s paintings dated May 4, 1937. This list was prepared by Dr. Robert Eigenberger for insurance coverage purposes.
Mr. Priester had sent photographs of his paintings to his secretary Mrs. Geiringer and his solicitor Mr. Hunna after the war. Together with the photographs, Mr. Priester also sent them a list of his paintings. They brought this matter to the attention of the police in Vienna who as a result published pictures in a police circular dated May 21, 1954.
During his lifetime, Julius Priester went to great efforts to recover his art objects that had been seized during the war. He did so with the help of attorneys and the Austrian authorities, amongst others. According to Viennese newspaper articles the search for the Julius Priester collection was well known.