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Dark moments at the Ischler Salzberg: art objects salvage 1944/45

Franz Juraschek, the regional conservator responsible for the Upper Danube and later the provincial conservator for Upper Austria during World War II, suggested the Ischler Salzberg as well as Aussee as a salvage site for endangered art treasures.

Juraschek and Hans Dellbrügge, District President in Vienna, turned to the Erbstollen near Bad Ischl, particularly after the Aussee salt mine had become the “ Reich’s salvage site ” and especially for objects in the “ Fuhrer Museum” in Linz.


Kaiser Franz Josef – Erbstollen, transport of art, 1944, archive Salinen Austria

For the storage, the first and second blind horizon were provided, which could be reached via the Distler shaft from the Erbstollen and from Perneck, from the Leopoldstollen. Due to the easier delivery to the Erbstollen, all storage was carried out via this.

In the second blind horizon, the so-called train station, which was used to shift the mine railway, was prepared for the salvage. In addition, the Ebensee plant with 1100 square meters in the first blind horizon was released for storage. A quarry leading from the first to the second blind horizon was later buried so that no one could reach the storerooms uninvited. At the beginning of 1945, the "Bahnhof" was covered in such a way that only one track remained free. The remaining space was intended for storing paintings. It was closed at both ends with heavy wooden plank doors. This made the entrance absolutely safe. Only the ventilation pipes remained free.


Salvage plan, 1944 Archive Salinen Austria

leopold stollen_distler schacht_schachtm

Shaft machine Distlerschacht:  All art objects were made with it  transported to the second blind horizon,  1940 Archive Salinen Austria

From November 1944 it was decided to store the Viennese art collections and the Lichtenstein picture gallery in the Ischler Salzberg . The daily reports from Lauffen began on December 9, 1944 with the arrival of the restorers Josef Hajsinek from Vienna and Franz Sochor from Kremsmünster. The first transport arrived in Lauffen on December 12, 1944. Almost all Viennese collections relocated salvaged goods to Lauffen.

Gert Adriani was appointed head of the salvage. But after a fatal mishap, he was replaced by Viktor Luithlen , head of the collection of ancient musical instruments. This remained so until the end of the repatriation in 1947.

Gert Adriani.jpg

Gert Adriani, KHM Museum Association

Viktor  Luithlen.jpg

Viktor Luithlen , KHM Museum Association

Storage of the art objects 1944/45:


Kaiser Franz Josef – Erbstollen, art goods transport, 1944/45, archive Salinen Austria

Kunstgutdepot_2 tiefbau_bahnhof_einbaute
Kunstgutdepot_2 tiefbau_bahnhof_auslager
Kunstgutdepot_2 tiefbau_bahnhof_bilderde
Kunstgutdepot_2 tiefbau_bahnhof_bilderde

Kunstgutdepot 2. Blindhorizont, 1986, Katharina Hammer Shine in the dark

Valuable holdings from spiritual possessions were now also stored in the Ischler Erbstollen instead of in the Ausseer Salzberg. One transport after the other arrived from Vienna. Treasures came from almost all state collections: there were 150 boxes from the national library with manuscripts and printed works, each individual page of which is a treasure. Holdings from the Natural History Museum, the Ethnological Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Art History Museum, the Liechtenstein Gallery and the Graz State Archives were delivered.


Pictures by such important artists as Rembrandt, Raffael, Brueghel, Albrecht Dürer, Jan van Eyck, Rubens and also by "modern" painters such as Munch, Monet, Klimt and Kokoschka were stored in Ischl. In addition, the gold treasure finds, ivories, vases, jewelery and statuettes from the antique collections.

A small selection of the priceless art objects stored in the Ischler Salzberg:


Tower of Babel

Pieter Bruegel the Elder ,  1563

venus von willendorf.jpg

Venus of Willendorf, around 30,000 years old


peasant dance

Pieter Bruegel the Elder ,  1525/30

mozarts requiem.jpg

Madonna in the green

Raphael Santi ,  1505-1506


Tassilo chalice from the year 777

The “Tassilokelch” from Kremsmünster Abbey also had a special situation:  

Officially it was housed in the Aussee salvage, but after this became the official salvage location for Hitler in 1943, it was secretly stored in the Ischler Salzberg by district conservator Franz Juraschek.

On April 18, 1945, a crisis team met in the general management of the saltworks to discuss the measures that were necessary to save the Ischler salvage from having to store a bomb like the one in Aussee.

According to this plan, the salvage should be made completely inaccessible. The "filling point" of the Distler shaft in the Erbstollen should be completely filled up with rock, "collapsed". The elevator is to be pulled up to the ceiling of the Leopold horizon, i.e. to its highest point, and shut down there. The stairs that lead up next to the elevator, the so-called "rides", are to be torn out below and above the I. and II. underground constructions and the burial of the pit between the I. and II. underground constructions is to be strengthened. This work was completed by May 5, 1945.

In the meantime, the situation in Ischl / Lauffen has also deteriorated dramatically. Between April 20 and 25, 1945, a total of 928 pictures of various origins from Kartause Gaming (Lower Austria) arrived here. On the orders of Hermann Stuppäck (General Cultural Officer of the Reich Governor Baldur von Schirach) in Gaming, the paintings had been thrown in a hurry "without any consideration and without the slightest care".  Due to the "barbaric" nature of the transport, numerous paintings "were perforated, torn off, damp or otherwise damaged in Bad Ischl/Lauffen. But that was not all, Stuppäck arrived in Bad Ischl on April 25 with orders from Schirach to move the salvaged goods kept in Lauffen further west without delay. At first Luithlen successfully resisted the order, but the arrival of officers and soldiers from the "Fabian Combat Unit" from the SS Panzer Division "Großdeutschland" on the evening of May 1st made any further delay impossible. Captain Reinhardt and Lieutenant Kahles would not be put off.

Bergrat Lepez refused the SS commander to provide the mine locomotive, the winding machine and the miners on the pretext that there was no corresponding clear written order from the Waffen SS command. Under threat of the use of weapons, the captain drove furiously to Gmunden to obtain the necessary powers of attorney. This saved valuable time again.

On May 3rd, however, the 184 paintings desired by Schirach and Stuppäck - including all paintings by Rembrandt, P. Bruegel the Elder, had to be handed over. Ä., Titians and Velazquez, 49 tapestry sacks and two crates are loaded onto trucks.

It turned out that a whole series of the main pieces from the Viennese picture gallery were to be kidnapped in this way. Among them were Bruegel's "Peasant Wedding" and "Peasant Fair", "Carnival Games", "Tower of Babel", "Homecoming of the Herd", "Storm at Sea", "Bird Thief" and "Pauli's Conversion", 6 Velasquez -Pictures, 7 Titians, including the cherries and the Gypsy Madonna, as well as the portrait of Jacopo della Strada, the two well-known self-portraits and the reading Titus by Rembrandt, and finally the "All Saints' Day" and "Emperor Maximilian" by Dürer. So you can safely say, not only the most valuable, but also a number of the most popular pictures in their gallery.

You worked late into the night. The marching orders were given on May 4th. At 4 a.m. the convoy with the restorers Hajsinek and Sochor left Bad Ischl in the direction of Mittersill. In the evening of the same day, the convoy arrived in Bramberg in the Pinzgau region of Salzburg, where Stuppäck was already awaiting the transport. But the odyssey of the art treasures was not over yet. The very next day, Major Fabian ordered the paintings, boxes and tapestry sacks to be loaded onto the trucks. The transport could only be accompanied by officers. Franz Sochor and Josef Hajsinek stayed in Bramberg, where they contacted the advancing American army and reported the incident.

All cultural assets were then found by the Americans in St. Johann in Tirol.

The final result of the Ischl salvage was:  8 figures, 1428 paintings, 122 sacks with tapestries, 278 folder boxes with cadastral maps and 728 boxes. A total of 150 tons of salvage.

On May 13, 1945, US troops arrived in Bad Ischl and took control of the salvage site.


On June 1, 1945, with the permission of the occupiers, the work to uncover the treasures in the salt mine could also begin, namely in the Erbstollen and in Plant XII in the I. underground construction. The II. civil engineering was initially still buried, but its opening was tackled soon afterwards. On June 13, 1945, the main salvage at the "Bahnhof" in II. Civil Engineering was accessible again. The salvage proved to be in excellent condition, with the exception of a lost painting, a bouquet of flowers by Jan Brueghel the Elder. Ä., which later reappeared in a private apartment in Munich and returned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1959 after a court decision.   



frederick shrady.jpg

On July 11, 1945, "Monuments Man" Lieutenant Frederick Shrady appeared in Bad Ischl and announced that the objects stored in the Pension Engeljähringer and in the Kaiservilla would be taken to the "Central Collection Point" in Munich. These objects were first brought to Ischl from the Aussee salt mine and were then to be stored in Lauffen. However, due to the events of the war, this did not happen. However, these works of art did not belong to the Viennese collections, but were part of the "special commission from the Führermuseum Linz"!

Lieutenant Frederick Shrady, Internet

On August 7, 1946, the first major transport back from Ischl to Vienna for an exhibition in Switzerland took place.

On April 25, 1947, the last large transport of art goods left the Ischl salt mine. After checking the rooms in the presence of the gendarmerie commander, the final commissioning took place and the salt works management took over sole supervision of the mountain again.


The salvage in Lauffen took place without any major losses or damage. Only the loss of 7 paintings for the Kunsthistorisches Museum had to be lamented, which are still considered lost today:  

Landscape by Nicolaes Berchem (GG 623), The Painter Jan Wildens by Anthonis van Dyck (GG 694), A Female Portrait by Peter Paul Rubens (GG 711), Hoffnung by Maerten van Heemskerck (GG 1946) and

Faith (GG 1953.), a Venetian ceiling sketch (GG 6398), and a loan were still available at the general inspection on April 26, 1945.  


Sources used:

Katharina Hammer "Shine in the Dark", Altaussee 1996

Franz Juraschek "Heimatblatt Oberösterreich", Linz 1947

British information service "World Press", 9 July 1947

Salzkammergut newspaper, January 6, 1946

Vienna Courier, November 19, 1945

Sabine Loitfellner, Pia Schölnberger "Salvage of cultural property under National Socialism: Myths - Background - Effects", April 18, 2016

Theodor Brückler, Art theft, art recovery and restitution in Austria 1938 to the present,  1999

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