The Monuments Men Foundation has recovered and returned to the National Archives ERR Albums 7, 8, and 15 Documenting Art Looted by the Nazis
Dallas, TX (March 27, 2012)
Today at a ceremony in Dallas, David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist and Robert M. Edsel, President of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art and author of The Monuments Men, announced the discovery of two original leather bound albums containing photographs of paintings and furniture looted by the Nazis. The Monuments Men Foundation will donate these albums, both of which have been in private hands since the end of World War II, to the National Archives.
These albums, created by the staff of a special task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, document the unprecedented and systematic looting of Europe by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The ERR was the main Nazi agency engaged in the theft of cultural treasures in Nazi-occupied countries.
The Archivist hailed this discovery as “one of the most significant finds related to Hitler and the Nazi’s premeditated theft of art and other cultural treasures to be found since the Monuments Men Foundation’s previous discovery of Albums 6 and 8. It is exciting to know that original documents are shedding light on this important aspect of World War II. Documents such as these may play a role in helping to solve some of those mysteries and, more importantly, helping victims recover their treasures. The National Archives is grateful to Mr. Edsel and the Monuments Men Foundation for today’s donation of Albums 7 and 15, which will allow scholars and historians immediate use of these materials.”
“The Foundation often receives calls from veterans and their heirs, who don’t know the importance of items they may have picked up during their service, or aren’t aware that anyone is looking for the items,” Foundation President Robert M. Edsel stated. “These albums are just the tip of the iceberg for hundreds of thousands of cultural items still missing since World War II. The role of the Monuments Men in preserving cultural treasures during conflict was without precedent. We honor their legacy by completing their mission.”
In the closing days of World War II, U.S. soldiers entered Adolf Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps. Many picked up trinkets as souvenirs as proof that they had been inside. Cpl. Albert Lorenzetti and Private First Class Yerke Zane Larson each took one leather bound album. Neither man knew the significance of the albums, other than being a memento of their war service. Heirs to both men contacted the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, a not-for-profit organization that received the 2007 National Humanities Medal, after reading media stories about the Foundation’s work involving the restitution of other valuable World War II documents.
“During World War II, my father Yerke Zane Larson proudly served in the 501st Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, “the Screaming Eagles.” In the final days of the war, he was stationed in Berchtesgaden, Germany where he picked up this album as a souvenir in Hitler’s home. If he were still living, I know he would be pleased to serve as an example for other veterans and their families of the importance of returning cultural treasures, just as the Monuments Men set the standard for protection of culture during armed conflict,“ stated Sandra Runde
Cpl. Albert Lorenzetti, who served in the 989th Field Artillery Battalion, removed Album 7 from the Berghof the same week as Larson as proof he’d been in Hitler’s home. His niece, Jane Gonzalez, commented: “My uncle was from a generation that grew up making sacrifices and putting others before themselves,” said Ms. Gonzalez. “I believe that donating this album to the National Archives and thereby assuring its preservation and availability to the public honors his legacy and is a testament to his personal character and patriotism.”
As the ERR staff looted, photographed and catalogued the French collections, they created leather bound albums, including the two being donated today. Each page of the album contained a photograph of one stolen item. A letter representing the family from which the item was stolen and an inventory number is noted beneath each image; for example in Album 7, “R2951” would be the 2951st object stolen from the Rothschild family. The albums were specifically intended for Hitler in an effort to keep him apprised of the ERR’s progress in France. According to noted historian Dr. Birgit Schwarz, once Hitler received the first set of albums on his birthday in April 1943, he issued a directive that incorporated the confiscated items into “Special Commission Linz.” This organization oversaw building the collection for the Führermuseum, an unrealized museum complex Hitler planned to build in his hometown of Linz, Austria, as well as distribution of art to regional museums throughout the Reich. As the director, Hitler decided which items would be placed in certain museums.
ERR Albums 7 and 15 are significant discoveries. Album 7 includes images of sixty-nine paintings which represented very early thefts, some as early as 1940 and early inventory numbers such as EW4 (the fourth item stolen from Elizabeth Wildenstein). Images of two important paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard are featured in Album 7. Girl with Two Doves, or Mädchen mit zwei Taube,n (inventory code: R38) sold at auction in 2000 for over $5 million after having been properly repatriated by the Monuments Men in 1946. Album 7 also includesThe Dance Outdoors, or Tanz im Freien, (inventory code: R67) attributed to the painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, which was intended for Hitler’s Führermuseum. Although the majority of the paintings featured in Album 7 appear to have been properly restituted after the war, four paintings are listed on the ERR Database as not having been restituted. Album 15 contains photos of forty-one pieces of furniture, primarily from the Rothschild family. Three of those pieces, inventory codes R917, R943, and R944, were prominently featured in one of the exhibits staged at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris for Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring to select items for his own collection.
In May 1945, thirty-nine original ERR albums were discovered at Neuschwanstein by the Monuments Men. They had been stored there by the Germans along with records that documented their confiscations and thousands of looted items. These albums were subsequently taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point where they were used by the Monuments Men to assist in the restitution process. In late 1945 these albums were used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations.
Today the National Archives has custody of the original thirty-nine albums, as well as two additional albums, 6 and 8, discovered by the Monuments Men Foundation and donated to the National Archives in 2007. Like Album 7, Albums 6 and 8 were picked up by a member of the 989th Field Artillery Battalion who was stationed in the Berchtesgaden area in the closing days of the war. Mr. Edsel stated about this occurrence: “I hope discoveries such as these will encourage other members of the 989th Battalion and their families, as well as all veterans, to look in their attics and basements for any lost wartime items as they may hold the clues to unravel this unsolved mystery.”
Washington, DC (November 1, 2007)
Today at a National Archives press conference, Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Records Services and Robert M. Edsel, author of Rescuing Da Vinci and President of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art , announced the discovery of two original leather bound photograph albums documenting art that was looted by the Nazis during World War II, both of which Mr. Edsel will donate to the National Archives under separate terms.
These albums were created by the staff of the Third Reich’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). This special unit was organized in the summer of 1940 under Reich Leader Alfred Rosenberg, initially to collect political material in occupied countries for exploitation in the “struggle against Jewry and Freemasonry.” The ERR established its base of operations in Paris in July 1940 and on November 5, Hermann Goering assigned the ERR the responsibility for the confiscation of “ownerless” Jewish art collections. On November 18 of that year, Adolf Hitler ordered that all confiscated works of art be brought to Germany and placed at his personal disposal. During the next several years, the ERR would be engaged in an extensive and elaborate art looting operation in France that was part of Hitler’s much larger premeditated scheme to steal art treasures from conquered nations.
Chief Archivist of the United States, Professor Allen Weinstein and Robert Edsel standing before one of the two “Hitler Albums”
The Archivist hailed this discovery as “one of the most significant finds related to Hitler’s premeditated theft of art and other cultural treasures to be found since the Nuremberg trials. It is exciting to know that original documents shedding light on this important aspect of World War II are still being located, especially so because of the hundreds of thousands of cultural items stolen from victims of Hitler and the Nazis that are still missing. Documents such as these may play a role in helping to solve some of those mysteries and, more importantly, helping victims recover their treasures. The National Archives is grateful to Mr. Edsel and the Monuments Men Foundation for today’s donation of Album 8, which will allow scholars and historians immediate use of these materials.” (Mr. Edsel intends to donate the original Album 6 at a future time, and until then, to make this volume or images of it available to researchers upon request.)
These two photographic albums were in the possession of heirs to an American soldier stationed in the Berchtesgaden area of Germany in the closing days of World War II. Mr. Edsel, understanding the importance of these albums, worked closely with these heirs to acquire them, thereby assuring their preservation and, by way of these gifts to the Nation, availability to the public.
Mr. Edsel stated that the “Hitler Albums” are not only evidence of the premeditated effort of Hitler and the Nazis to rob Europe and Russia of its greatest cultural treasures, they also demonstrate just how obsessed and personally involved Adolf Hitler was with building the world’s greatest museum—the Führer Museum, in his hometown of Linz. “With the increasing pace and visibility of restitution claims, and important discoveries such as the ‘Hitler Albums,’ that story is finally becoming more widely known,” said Mr. Edsel.
Soon after the German occupation of France in 1940, the German military, and subsequently the ERR, focused their art confiscations on the world renowned Jewish- owned art collections from families such as the Rothschilds, and the Veil-Picards, Alphonse Kann, and Jewish dealers such as the Seligmanns and Georges Wildenstein. According to the German ERR documents from 1944, the art seizures in France totaled 21,903 objects from 203 collections. There were 5,009 items confiscated from the Rothschild family collections, 2,687 items from the David-Weill collection, and 1,202 from Alphonse Kann’s collection. The first shipment of confiscated art objects sent to Germany from Paris required 30 rail cars and consisted primarily of Rothschild paintings intended for Hitler’s Linz Museum. Among the first fifty-three paintings shipped to Hitler was Vermeer’s Astronomer from the Édouard de Rothschild collection, today in the Musée de Louvre in Paris.
As the ERR staff looted and catalogued the French collections, they created photograph albums specifically intended for the Reichschancellery and Adolf Hitler in an effort to keep them apprised of their work in France, and more importantly, to provide a catalogue of items from which Hitler and his curators could choose art treasures for the Führer’s Art Museum in Linz, Austria. A group of these photograph albums were presented to Adolf Hitler on the occasion of his birthday on April 20, 1943, by Alfred Rosenberg to “send a ray of beauty and joy into [his] revered life.” ERR staff stated that nearly 100 such volumes were created during the years of their art looting operation.
“More importantly to our world today is the story we don’t know, the role of the men and women of 13 nations, known as ‘Monuments Men,’ [the staff of the various Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives units]. These courageous individuals rescued and returned more than 5 million cultural items to the countries from which they had been stolen, including many of the paintings featured in these ‘Hitler Albums,’ in what became the greatest treasure hunt in history,” Edsel stated.
“The Monuments Men set the standard for the protection of artistic and cultural treasures during armed conflict. It is my hope, and the goal of the Monuments Men Foundation, that their rich legacy will finally be used in a manner befitting their contribution to our world. Their legacy belongs not just to Americans, but to people of good will in all countries who believe these treasures should be protected from armed conflict and preserved for the benefit of civilization,” Edsel stated.
During the latter part of April and first part of May 1945 elements of the United States Army recovered some of the ERR photographic albums. These albums were turned over to the Monuments Men and were subsequently stored at the Munich Central Collecting Point where they were used in identifying art work to be restituted.
Today the National Archives has custody of the 39 original ERR photograph albums that were discovered at Neuschwanstein, where the Germans, in April 1945, had placed them for safekeeping. In late 1945, this set of 39 albums was used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations.
Until now it was believed that the missing ERR albums had been destroyed during the latter days of World War II. But thanks to Mr. Edsel’s efforts two more albums have been recovered and will undoubtedly serve as useful sources for documenting not only Nazi art looting but also establishing the provenance of art works and, perhaps, in facilitating the restitution of long-alienated works of art.
For Press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001
Telephone: 1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272
Images from Donated "Hitler Albums" 7 and 15 Documenting Looted Art
Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg Foto-Mappe Nr. 15
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Jewish Telegraphic Agency – National Archives Gets Two More Albums on Nazi Looting
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Art Daily – Photo Albums Related to Nazi Art Theft Unveiled by Monuments Men Foundation
Newly Found Document by Dr. Birgit Schwarz in Connection with the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR)
A newly discovered document shows that Hitler held a previously underestimated central position within the Nazi looting organizations. Already in 1938 the “Führer” of the Third Reich had claimed with his so-called “Führervorbehalt” that he should have first access to all Nazi-looted art. One year later he established “Special Project Linz “ (“Sonderauftrag Linz”), which had two interrelated tasks: to compile a collection for Hitler’s planned “Führer-Museum” in Linz on the river Danube and the distribution of the entire Nazi-looted art to museums throughout the German Reich. In this context the important point is that “Special Project Linz “ as an organization was responsible for the practical implementation of the “Führervorbehalt” to give Hitler first access to all looted art and was reporting to him directly, as its boss.
“Special Project Linz” was not a looting organization in itself, but was responsible for the distribution of stolen art. (Art was also bought by the organization to a great extend). The actual theft was conducted by other Nazi organizations, which were not under Hitler’s direct control. This was an attempt to detract from his own responsibility for the Nazi looting campaigns.
The most important Nazi art-looting organization was the so-called Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), headed by the chief ideologist of the Nazi party, Alfred Rosenberg. On 21 April 1943 Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann ordered Alfred Rosenberg, that all Jewish art collections in France which had been seized by the ERR were to be handed over to the experts working for the “Special Project Linz “. In the coming weeks Rosenberg fought desperately to maintain control over the ERR holdings.
Simultaneously to this Rosenberg order, an instruction to the “Special Project Linz” had been given to create an overall registry of all paintings “for Linz and other galleries.“ In the summer of 1943 this overall index file was created in Dresden, which contained “all items seized and removed by the departments Rosenberg and Mühlmann in the occupied eastern and western territories”, i.e. the selection made for Hitler of the confiscated paintings in France and Poland. The paintings index files were completed in March 1944.
The document presented here, which can be found in the German Federal Archive in Koblenz (BAK B 323/109, No. 482) proofs that the paintings of the ERR have been incorporated into those of the “Special Project Linz” and have therefore been made available to Hitler 1.
The art itself remained for several more months in the depots of the ERR (Neuschwanstein castle, Buxheim monastery etc.), but the most important pieces were transferred to the salt mines in Altaussee (Austria) in early 1944, Hitler’s main depository, which was entirely managed by “Special Project Linz”.
An index file for prints, decorative arts and sculpture was also planned, but could not be completed before war ended. The existing card files were taken to Moscow by the Red Army in December 1945 and are to date not available for research.
Dr. Birgit Schwarz, 21 March 2012
1 see: Dr. Birgit Schwarz, Bücher zum NS-Kunstraub und zum „Sonderauftrag Linz“, in: Kunstchronik, 60. 2007, 33-42, in particular. p. 40/41.
(Bundesarchiv Koblenz B 323/109, No. 482)(English)
On 19 August 1943 the administrative assistant for “Special Commission Linz”, Dr. Gottfried Reimer, wrote to the Administrator of the art depots in the “Führerbau” in Munich, Hans Reger. He reports on a few weeks previously received instructions by Bormann saying that “the Führer ordered the compilation of an overall index file for all paintings acquired in Germany and abroad. This photo index file will not only contain your already established photo index of the “Führerbau” holdings, but also the inventory of Rosenberg’s and Mühlmann’s departments seized or deported from the occupied Eastern and Western territories. (…) This index with all its cards and photos will be compiled by us in Dresden as soon as circumstances allow and manpower is available.”
(Bundesarchiv Koblenz B 323/109, Nr. 482) (German)
Der Referent des Sonderauftrags Linz, Dr. Gottfried Reimer, schreibt am 19. August 1943 aus Dresden an den Verwalter des Kunstdepots im “Führerbau” in München, Hans Reger (Bundesarchiv Koblenz, B 323/109, Nr. 482). Er berichtet von einer vor einigen Wochen eingegangenen Anweisung Bormanns, wonach “der Führer die Aufstellung einer Gesamtkartei aller in Deutschland und aus dem Ausland erworbenen Gemälde befohlen hat. Diese Fotokartei wird nicht nur die von Ihnen aufgestellte, alle Bestände des Führerbaus umfassende (sic!) Fotokartei in sich enthalten, sondern auch alle durch die Dienststellen Rosenberg und Mühlmann in den besetzten Ost- und Westgebieten sichergestellten bzw. Abtransportierten Stücke enthalten. (…) Dieses Verzeichnis wird mit Karteikarten und Fotos unter besonderer Anmerkung der Standorte von uns in Dresden so rasch als dies die Umstände und die uns zur Verfügung stehenden Kräfte erlauben hergestellt werden.”