This morning in Dallas, TX, the Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, Senior Archivist Greg Bradsher, and President of the Monuments Men Foundation Robert M. Edsel announced the discovery of two original albums of photographs of paintings and furniture looted by the Nazis.
The Monuments Men Foundation will donate these albums, which have been in private hands since the end of World War II, to the National Archives.
These albums were created by a special Nazi task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), to document the 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 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,” Edsel said. “These albums are just the tip of the iceberg for hundreds of thousands of cultural items still missing since World War II.”
In the closing days of World War II, U.S. soldiers entered Adolf Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps. Many picked up souvenirs to prove they had been inside the Berghof.
Cpl. Albert Lorenzetti (989th Field Artillery Battalion) and Pfc. Yerke Zane Larson (501st Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division) each took one leather-bound album. Neither man knew the significance of the albums. Their heirs contacted the Monuments Men Foundation after reading about the Foundation’s work involving the restitution of other World War II documents.
As the ERR staff looted, photographed, and cataloged the French collections, they created these leather-bound albums. Each page of the album contained a photograph of one stolen item. A letter 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.
ERR Albums 7 and 15 are significant discoveries. Album 7 includes images of 69 paintings of very early thefts, including two paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Girl with Two Doves (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 includes The Dance Outdoors (inventory code R67), attributed to the painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, which was intended for Hitler’s Führermuseum.
In May 1945, 39 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 looting of thousands of items. These albums were used by the Monuments Men to assist in the restitution process and as evidence at the Nuremberg trials.
Today the National Archives has custody of the original 39 albums. Two additional albums (6 and 8 ) were donated to the National Archives in 2007. They had been were picked up by a member of the 989th Field Artillery Battalion stationed in the Berchtesgaden area in the closing days of the war.
“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,” said Edsel.
Learn more about Nazi looted art and the National Archives in this Prologue article.