Posse, Hans

Hans Posse


6 February 1879 Dresden – 7 December 1942 Berlin

Hans Posse was a German art historian appointed by Hitler in June 1939 as his "special representative for Linz". At this time, Posse, who had studied art history, history and German from 1899 to 1903 in Marburg and Vienna, already had a successful career. After completing his doctoral degree, he began as an unpaid intern and research assistant at the Gemäldegalerie Berlin, which moved in 1904 to the new Kaiser Friedrich Museum, now Bode Museum. He became Wilhelm Bode's assistant in 1909. Prior to that, he had visited Italy several times and helped to inventorize the paintings in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum. In 1910 at the age of just thirty-one he became director of the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, one of the most prestigious positions in the German museum scene. During the First World War he served on the Western front in France, where he completed numerous drawings of surprising artistic quality, some of which have only recently been rediscovered. After the war he remained director of the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, now state-owned. As head of the German contribution to the 1922 Biennale in Venice, he supported Oskar Kokoschka, who was generally disdained in conservative art circles. Kokoschka was professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden at the time and Posse's tenant in one of the cavalier houses in the Grosser Garten. Posse's acquisitions policy as gallery director in the 1920s and 1930s also showed his openness to Modernism. It is therefore all the more surprising that Hitler chose Posse as the art history expert for his Kunstmuseum (art museum) in Linz. Posse was even removed as director in Dresden in 1938 and was only reinstated at Hitler's instigation. There are conflicting views in the literature about Posse's politics. His art policy was not always in line with National Socialist ideas, but this does not necessarily mean that he distanced himself from the Nazi ideology. When he was appointed "special representative" he was not a member of the NSDAP, nor did he join the Party later on, unlike his wife Elise, née Käpernick, who had joined the NSDAP in 1931 when she was still Posse's housekeeper and not yet married to him. In 1933, however, when the attacks on the museum director increased, he applied to join the Party, but his application was rejected in 1934. It is difficult to determine whether he made this application solely to cover himself politically. Perhaps – like many others – he considered his work in the art sector to be "unpolitical". At all events, his diary entries make it clear that he was aware from the outset that a large number of the artworks earmarked for the Kunstmuseum were from collections seized and/or secured by the Nazis from persecuted individuals. One of Posse's first official trips was to Vienna, where he visited the objects stored in the Zentraldepot für beschlagnahmte Sammlungen (Central Depot for Seized Collections) in the Hofburg and made plans for their dispersal. He was not only responsible for the selection for Linz but also organized the distribution to existing Austrian museums, based on the wish lists of the museum directors. Posse was therefore the executor of the "Führervorbehalt" (Führer reserve) to items in the Central Depot in Vienna, which were to form the basis for the future Linz museum. He also had access to expropriated collections in the conquered/occupied territories, particularly Poland, France and the Netherlands. He often travelled there to inspect and select seized/secured art. He also acquired numerous objects in the French and Dutch art markets (in which many objects sold under pressure by Jewish owners were on sale) using almost unlimited foreign exchange accounts available for the Linz project. His diary entries bear witness to an almost obsessive dedication to Linz. He continued even after he had been diagnosed with oral cancer in 1942. He died of cancer in December 1942 in Berlin. At Hitler's instigation he was given a state funeral at which Josef Goebbels gave the eulogy. He was made an honorary citizen of Linz. His widow Elise donated drawings by Posse from his estate to the city and also some of Posse's private collection of prints  to the Linz project (both of which have subsequently disappeared). After Posse's assistant Gottfried Reimer took over temporarily, the art historian Hermann Voss became "special representative for Linz" in 1943. Because of his early death, Posse did not have to answer to the Allies after the war. In its first examination in 1945, the Art Looting Investigation Unit classified "Sonderauftrag Linz" as a criminal undertaking and called for prosecution of those responsible, but this was not followed up. Research in the last few decades in particular has focused increasingly on Posse himself. A symposium organized by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in 2013 dealt for the first time with the entire range of Posse's activities as an art historian, museum director and "special representative", which revealed not only the logical progression but also the contradictions and interruptions in his career.

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Birgit Kirchmayr, Der Briefwechsel August Zöhrer – Elise Posse im Archiv der Stadt Linz. Eine Fußnote zur Geschichte des "Linzer Führermuseums", in: Walter Schuster/Maximilian Schimböck/Anneliese Schweiger (Hg.), Stadtarchiv und Stadtgeschichte. Festschrift für Fritz Mayrhofer (= Historisches Jahrbuch der Stadt Linz 2003/2004), Linz 2004, 515–522.

Gilbert Lupfer/Thomas Rudert (Hg.), Kennerschaft zwischen Macht und Moral. Annäherungen an Hans Posse (1879–1942), Köln-Weimar-Wien 2015.

August Zöhrer, Gestalter und Gestalten. Dr. Hans Posse. Der Schöpfer des Linzer Kunstmuseums, in: Linz, Erbe und Sendung, Linz 1943, 7–16.


Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg, Nachlass Posse.