National Archives Announces Discovery of 'Hitler Albums' Documenting Looted Art

Nov 01, 2007, 01:00 ET from National Archives

    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