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Looted


Dormant bank accounts, transfers of gold, and unclaimed insurance policies, all taken by the Nazis and hidden primarily in Swiss bank accounts during World War II, are now the subject of economic and financial research. Museums and galleries are researching the provenance of paintings, decorative arts, and sculpture in their collections in order to confirm that none of the pieces were looted during World War II. Although the Nazis were known for their thorough recordkeeping, a significant amount of artwork still is missing and unaccounted for. The Allied armies salvaged many of these German records, but do these records clearly tell the story of an art piece? And what is the story of the Allied attempts to find the owners of more than two million looted art pieces and bring German art dealers and Nazi collaborators to justice?




Looted


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In recent years, renewed interest in Holocaust-era assets has prompted heirs, art historians, and curators to ask these questions concerning art provenance and claims research. Until recently, very few researchers were interested in economic and financial aspects of the Nazi regime and the war; even fewer in Holocaust-related assets.1 Now, provenance research of looted art has become an important activity for auction houses, art dealers, and art museums.2


To address the dual concerns of researchers' demand for records that document the locating and restituting of confiscated art and the preservation problems associated with overuse of fragile World War II records, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) created the Holocaust Records Project (HRP). The project has the task of identifying, preserving, describing, and microfilming more than twenty million pages of records created by the Allies in occupied Europe regarding Nazi looted art and the restitution of national treasures. These materials include documents generated by various U.S. government civilian agencies, U.S. military branches, and the Office of Military Government, U.S. Zone (OMGUS).


The HRP emerged from a meeting in the summer of 2001 between NARA and art historians and curators to identify NARA's key and relevant holdings concerning art provenance and restitution claims research. These records tell the story of Allied programs created in mid-1943 to protect art from being damaged or stolen by the Allied military forces, to prevent art from being used as a financial asset by the Axis powers, to keep Nazi looted art from being sent to a safe haven (somewhere outside of Germany, in the neutral countries or Latin America), and to aid Allied restitution efforts.


Our primary goal is to aid archival research in looted cultural property records and to create specialized inventories and finding aids. Our finding aids allow researchers to narrow their search for archival records and also help to preserve the records by minimizing the amount of handling to which they are subjected. Two additional project goals are the posting of inventories and indexes on NARA's art provenance web page.


The first set of records to be microfilmed are the records of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas ("The Roberts Commission");3 the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) inventory card files; the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) files; the Cultural Property Claims Applications; and the records of the four temporary collecting points under U.S. Army command: Marburg, Offenbach, Wiesbaden, and Munich.4 The army occupation forces in Germany, Italy, and Austria created massive quantities of records in the process of the recovery, administration, and restitution of looted art and cultural property and treasures. The paperwork involving property claim applications made to OMGUS from individuals and institutions was routed through the collecting point to the object's country of origin. For example, if an object had been taken out of Poland by the Nazis, moved to France, and shipped to Munich, then the claim was made to the Allies by the Polish government. Each European government was to determine ownership of artworks taken from its own country. Also in these records are U.S. Army interrogations and field reports on looted art, including information on the discovery and recovery of looted art, and captured German and French documents containing packing lists and bills of sale. One section of OMGUS records relating to the location and restitution of looted art alone amounts to several million pages.


The HRP's first completed project was the preservation microfilming of selected records of the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU),5 an investigative program formed in November 1944 under the auspices of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas ("The Roberts Commission") and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). These detailed interrogations, also known as the ALIU reports, describe Nazi looting; locations of looted art; German and Nazi attempts to sell looted art; the transport of art into and around the Reich; descriptions and dimensions of specific pieces, with many pieces listing the selling and purchasing prices; names of purchasing agents and auction houses; names and activities of Swiss, French, German, and other European art dealers; and art collections of Nazi leaders.6


The ERR was the most elaborate of the Nazi confiscating agencies, and it looted more than twenty-one thousand individual objects from over two hundred Jewish-owned collections.13 For every object delivered to the Jeu de Paume Museum, a clearinghouse to process all French confiscations, ERR staff created an inventory card containing the artist's name, medium, dimensions, and in many cases, a photograph. The ERR then organized the cards by codes based on the family's name and a number: for example "R" for the Rothschild family, "D.W." for David-Weill, and "SEL" for the Seligmann family in Paris. On many cards appears a stamp with either "AH" or "HG," indicating if the object was going to Hitler's museum in Linz or to Göring's personal collection at Carinhall (Göring's country house named in honor of his wife, Carin). Suitable materials not selected for Linz or Carinhall were set aside for German museums, and pieces deemed too decadent and modern (i.e., "degenerate") for the Nazis were sold at auction in the international art markets.14


In May 1945, with the European war over, Voss traveled to Wiesbaden, Germany, to present himself to the American troops and offer his assistance in locating and recovering looted art slated for Linz. He was taken into custody and interrogated by the ALIU in Alt Aussee, Austria, from August 15 to September 15, 1945.24 In a signed statement, Voss asserted that he wanted to provide the full account of his knowledge of art confiscations during the war.25


In early 1943, the Allies learned of the Nazi art confiscations, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historical Monuments in War Areas ("The Roberts Commission") to coordinate and promote the protection and recovery of art in war-ravaged Europe, with the understanding that the commission's mission would not interfere with any military operations.30 Named after its chairman, Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts, the commission compiled information on war damage to European and Asian cultural properties and submitted reports to Allied agencies suggesting plans for restituting looted art. The commission was active through June 1946.


In early 1944, Justice Roberts, now the chairman of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, met with Gen. William J. Donovan, director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), requesting that a special intelligence unit dealing with looted art be formed and administered by the OSS.50 Roberts envisioned that this unit would assist his commission and the U.S. Army's MFA&A Section officers. Donovan agreed, and in 1944 the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU), was placed under the control of OSS's Counterintelligence Branch (X-2) because the OSS believed that certain Nazi agents could be using art looting and collaborative activities to conceal their roles as espionage agents.


Upon the end of the European war, in spring 1945, Germany was divided into four zones of occupation. The Office of Military Government, U.S. Zone, OMGUS, was established in October 1945 to administer the U.S. occupation zone. In addition to its other postwar duties, OMGUS took control of all looted art pieces within its German and Berlin zones and returned identifiable objects to the governments of the countries from which they had been stolen.55 There were more than fifteen hundred documented repositories throughout Germany and Austria, all storing Nazi confiscated goods. OMGUS attempted to return those pieces not identifiable to their possible country of origin, and items without any claims were turned over to Jewish successor organizations for restitution. The U.S. Allied Commission for Austria section of OMGUS (USACA) was the U.S. representative in Austria, which also restituted confiscated works.


OMGUS made great efforts to recover and to restitute looted cultural property and created a large volume of records in the process. These records were created for specific purposes: to protect art, whenever possible, from being damaged or stolen by the Allied military forces and to keep art from being used as a financial asset by the Axis. Some of these records consist of property cards, created by the collecting point as the shipments were received. Munich alone received over fifty thousand separate shipments.59 The cards were created to document pertinent information in aiding restitution efforts: classification of the object, artist and title names, dimensions, markings, and photographs of the object. One category on the cards, "presumed owner," may allow art historians to begin their respective research into specific pieces and return them to the claimant. 041b061a72


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