Today’s guest post was written by Miriam Kleiman, who works in the National Archives Public Affairs Office.
George Clooney’s next film—which he will write, direct, and star in—is based on holdings from the National Archives!
Clooney announced last weekend that his number-one priority is to make a film about the “Monuments Men,” a group of cultural scholars and historians who donned Army uniforms to serve the Allies by rescuing, identifying, and trying to return precious artworks looted by Adolf Hitler.
Clooney shared with the press that while the Monuments Men were not trained for combat, they did face live fire and even had to give orders. He offered a possible example: “Don’t aim your tank over there, that’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa!” And it will be a big-budget film, not a small artsy one.
Clooney is now working on the screenplay. The movie will be an adaptation of Robert Edsel’s 2009 book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.
Edsel is no stranger to the National Archives. His work is largely based on National Archives records, including those of the Office of Strategic Services Art Looting Unit, images from the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and records of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives branch of the Office of Military Government, U.S. Zone (Germany).
In Monuments Men, Edsel praises the National Archives as “a marvel to behold” and thanks “the many fine people at NARA” for their assistance. He has done extensive research here, and has spoken at National Archives public programs and press events. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on a number of occasions and admire his commitment and dedication.
Among the National Archives holdings used by Edsel are Captured German Records including those of the Third Reich’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), which was organized under Reich Leader Alfred Rosenberg and ordered by Hermann Goering to confiscate Jewish art collections. The ERR unit was of particular interest to Hitler, who demanded that all confiscated works of art be brought to Germany and placed at his personal disposal.
The Nazis were meticulous record keepers. The ERR created leather-bound volumes to highlight their stolen treasures, update Hitler on their work, and serve as a catalog from which Hitler could choose art treasures for his planned Art Museum in Linz, Austria. Nearly 100 such so-called “Hitler albums” were created.
Alfred Rosenberg presented Hitler with a few of these albums on the Fuhrer’s birthday in 1943, to “send a ray of beauty and joy into [his] revered life.” At the end of the war, the U.S. Army recovered 39 of these albums, which were first used by Monuments Men to help identify art work to be restituted and later used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations. It was believed that the missing ERR albums had been destroyed.
However, Edsel learned of additional surviving albums. At a press conference at the National Archives on November 1, 2007, Edsel announced the discovery of two original Hitler albums, and said that he would donate these volumes to the National Archives.
Of course, Clooney’s upcoming film will feature a love story! Rose Valland was a member of the French resistance who volunteered at the French art museum Jeu de Paume and, Edsel wrote, “ingratiated herself with the Nazis . . . and, unbeknownst to them, spied on their activities” throughout the war. Following the liberation of Paris, she shared this secret information with the Monuments Men.
In the book, Edsel describes Valland as “an unassuming but determined single woman with a forgettable bland style and manner.” But I imagine her Hollywood depiction may be different! The National Archives has records on her, too, detailing her work with the Monuments Men to retrieve looted French artwork discovered by the 7th U.S. Army in tunnels under a castle at Neuschwanstein, Bavaria.
Edsel refers to the Monuments Men as “an unknown story.” Thanks to his work, and to George Clooney, these courageous men and women will be remembered.
Personally, I would be happy to meet and escort Mr. Clooney on a VIP tour of the National Archives. I’ll be waiting by the phone. As a public servant, it’s the least I can do for my country.
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