WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 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.
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 Fuhrer 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 Edouard de Rothschild collection, today in the Musee de Louvre in
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 Fuhrer'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.
SOURCE National Archives