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An Office of Strategic Services Monuments Man: S. Lane Faison

by on January 16, 2014


This is the seventh in an ongoing series of posts on real-life Monuments Men. Today’s post is by Dr. Greg Bradsher. See related posts on Sir Charles Leonard WoolleyWalter J. HuchthausenSeymour J. Pomrenze, Mason Hammond, Edith Standen, and Karol Estreicher.

The forthcoming movie, The Monuments Men, has focused great attention on the Monuments Men (and women) and their work during and after World War II.  Of course the movie cannot tell the story of the over 300 individuals involved in Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) work, so focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett respectively.  Over the course of the next two months, I thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals.

This post focuses on S. Lane Faison of the Office of Strategic Services’ Art Looting Investigation Unit, and is the seventh in the series of blogs on the Monuments Men.

Samson Lane Faison, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. on November 16, 1907.  He graduated from Williams College, Massachusetts in 1929, and earned a Master’s degree from Harvard in 1930 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Princeton in 1932.  From 1932 to 1936 he was an assistant professor at Yale and in 1936 he joined the Williams College faculty as professor of art history.  In 1940 he became chair of the Department of Art, a position he would hold for nearly thirty years.

On December 1, 1942 Faison was commissioned in the Navy and served as a Naval Flight Recognition Instructor and Training Officer until April 1945 when he was asked to join the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).  Faison, in early May, was assigned to the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU).  The ALIU was established in 1944 “to collect and disseminate information bearing on the looting, confiscation, and transfer by the enemy of art properties in Europe.” It was also mandated to find information “on individuals or organizations involved in such operations or transactions, as will be of direct aid to the United States agencies empowered to effect restitution of such properties and prosecution of war criminals.”

Faison joined the ALIU at Alt Aussee, Austria, in the summer of 1945.  It was on May 8, 1945, at that location, in a salt mine, where the greatest collection of looted art was discovered by the U.S. Army and it was there the ALIU established a base of operations. There Faison and his ALIU colleagues, including James S. Plaut and Theodore Rousseau, Jr., set about interrogating many of those involved in the plundering of works of art. Particular attention was paid to the works of art acquired by Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering, to a projected Hitler Museum at Linz, and to the Nazi looting organization in France under the leadership of Alfred Rosenberg (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or the ERR).  The ALIU work at Alt Aussee resulted in the clarification of the nature of the looting process and the identification of the whereabouts of countless masterpieces.  Faison’s primary assignment was to write the “official history, as far as number 4 of the OSS ALIU Consolidated Interrogation reports, “Linz: Hitler’s Museum and Library,” December 1945, and the OSS ALIU Detailed Interrogation report on Herman Voss, September 1945.  Voss had been the director of the Dresden and Führermuseum.

Before leaving Europe Faison unsuccessfully recommended the art looters be included in the Nuremburg trials.  In February 1946 he departed the Navy as Lieutenant Commander.

In the spring of 1946, in recommending Faison for a commendation medal, Lieutenant Commander James S. Plaut, USNR, then Director, Orion Project, X-2 Branch, Strategic Services Unit, War Department, wrote:

As a field agent in the European Theater of a secret counter-espionage project, he conducted investigations and interrogations of enemy personnel with outstanding energy, subtlety, and distinction. Through diligent analysis of captured documents, through competent liaison with other Allied intelligence personnel, and through the aforementioned investigations and interrogations, he was able to produce a major definitive report which, for the first time, has revealed in comprehensive manner the activities and machinations of the group appointed by Hitler to amass cultural and artistic treasures from the occupied countries of Europe for the enrichment of the Linz Museum planned as a personal memorial to Hitler.

In addition, Lieutenant Commander Faison brought such skilled and highly specialized knowledge to his duties to make possible his personal preparation of invaluable interrogation reports on the leading members of the Hitler art-looting group, and the subsequent preparation, in the Washington headquarters of this project, of vital material for inclusion in the definitive lists of enemy art looting personnel presently nearing completion.

The latter was a reference to the ALIU final report, which was issued in May 1946.  The National Archives prepared a list of names mentioned in the final report, pointing to the report and page number where individuals are listed.

Back at Williams College Faison served once again as the chair of the Department of Art and became Director of the Williams College Museum of Art in 1948.

In late 1950, the State Department requested Faison go back to Germany as Director of the Central Collecting Point in Munich to supervise the transfer of U.S. operations to the Germans, and to oversee the final restitution efforts at Munich.  He agreed and stayed there during 1951. For his efforts in finding and restituting looted artworks, he received the French Legion of Honor in 1952.

Once again back at Williams he continued his position as chair of the Department of Art, until 1969 and that as director of the art museum until 1976.  In that year Faison finally retired as a full-time professor.  He then wrote several books, including The Art Museums of New England (1982).  He died in 2006 at his home in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

On April 23, 2001, I phoned Professor Faison and told him the National Archives was issuing the next day a press release announcing the release of Microfilm Publication M-1782, “OSS Art Looting Investigation Unit Reports, 1945-46.”  I told him the microfilmed records—including the detailed, consolidated, and final reports—were being made available on May 8, the 56th anniversary of the U.S. Army’s discovery of the salt mine at Alt Aussee, Austria, where the greatest concentration of Nazi plunder from Western Europe was concealed.  I asked him if he minded me making his phone number available if I received press inquiries about the records and the work of the ALIU.  He said at his age it was tough enough to get up to change the television channel, much less answer the phone regarding things he had done ages ago and which were well-documented in the records we were making available. So, yes, he did mind.  I thanked him for his time, his service, and told him that the National Archives would take good care of his reports.  I added that the records were indispensable to those individuals, institutions, and organizations engaged in art provenance and claims research.  I might add this is still true today.

The ALIU reports contained on Microfilm Publication M-1782, “OSS Art Looting Investigation Unit Reports, 1945-46” have now been digitized and are available on www.fold3.com


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