A Monuments Man Investigator: Walter Horn
This is the ninth 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 Woolley, Walter J. Huchthausen, Seymour J. Pomrenze, Mason Hammond, Edith Standen, Karol Estreicher, S. Lane Faison, and Sir Hilary Jenkinson.
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 art historian Walter Horn, and is the ninth in the series of blogs on the Monuments Men.
Monuments Man Bernard Taper said at a conference in 1995, that “My story is not as heroic or as glamorous as those of the earlier Monuments people, whom I look on as legendary figures, truly chivalric in their courage, enterprise, and dedication to a cause. One such was my predecessor as art-intelligence officer, Lieutenant Walter Horn…”
Walter William Horn was born January 18, 1908, in Waldangelloch, Germany (in rural Baden), and grew up in Heidelberg, attending the university there, and in Berlin and Hamburg studying art history. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Hamburg in 1933. Horn, opposed to National Socialism, left Germany in 1934 to serve as a research associate at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, Italy. He emigrated to the United States in 1938, and joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, first as a visiting lecturer and a year later given a permanent position as the first art historian in the University of California system. Horn specialized in medieval architecture and sculpture, and he devoted much of his career to the study of vernacular architecture.
Horn was naturalized in 1943 and that same year he joined the United States Army. In late 1944, Horn, then a lieutenant, was in England interrogating prisoners of war. On January 2, 1945, Douglas Cooper with the MFA&A Branch, British Control Commission for Germany, wrote Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, Adviser, MFA&A, G-5, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) that Horn would be invaluable for MFA&A work in Germany. Cooper observed that “He is both a good scholar and a very nice man. He knows many of the museum people and of course is fluent in German.” This was not to be at the time, for Horn would soon be in General George S. Patton’s Third United States Army, interrogating prisoners of war. He was then assigned to SHAEF to work as an Intelligence Officer.
On July 20, 1945, Horn joined MFA&A Branch, United States Group Control Council, as a fine arts intelligence officer. He was assigned temporary duty to Nuremberg that date to locate the Imperial Crown Jewels and Coronation Regalia of the Holy Roman Empire (dated from the 8th through the 14th centuries) that were thought to have been hidden in Nuremberg. Indeed, the Nazis had hidden them to serve as a rallying symbol for a future Nazi resistance movement. After many interrogations and much sleuthing, Horn, on August 7 recovered from a hidden room in an underground bunker in Nuremberg the missing items.
Then Horn was off to Munich Central Collecting Point, where at the end of August, he arranged to have established an Art Document Center, in which all documents, correspondence, records and card files pertaining to works of art would be united and made available for study and research. He arranged for the center to be administered under the joint auspices of the collecting point and the Intelligence Unit (to which he had just been assigned as chief), MFA&A Sub-section, G-5 Division, United States Forces European Theater (USFET).
Horn’s next assignment involved the restitution of cultural property to the Czechoslovakian government. On October 2 General Eisenhower, not wanting to delay restitutions until a formal program was established, authorized, as soon as possible, a token restitution to Czechoslovakia of stolen cultural objects. Already, on September 29 USFET, anticipating Eisenhower’s wishes, had issued instructions that a token restitution of stolen cultural materials to Czechoslovakia be made on or about October 9, and that restitution would take place at Schloss Banz, in Bavaria. The famous fourteenth century altarpiece by the Master of Hohenfurt found in the Alt Aussee Salt Mine in Austria and moved to the Munich Central Collecting Point, and approximately 18 cases of objects from the Army Museum, Prague, at Schloss Banz, were to be assembled by that date ready for transfer of custody receipt at Schloss Banz. Within a few days Horn left for Schloss Banz to effect the transfer of the looted works to accredited representatives of the Czechoslovakian government. Two military officers from the Czech Ministry of National Defense came to USFET Headquarters and the MFA&A unit arranged for them to proceed from there to Schloss Banz, where they were met by Horn. While the Czech officers were en route, Capt. Edwin Rae at Third U. S. Army was directed to arrange for the delivery of the Hohenfurth panels to Schloss Banz. He designated Lt. Cmdr. Hamilton Coulter to transport them from Munich, which he did on October 8. This joint operation was successfully carried out.
In 1946 Horn, having attained the rank of captain, returned to the United States, and resumed his professorship at the University of California at Berkeley. He would serve as chair of that university’s Department of Art History until his retirement in 1974. He died on December 26, 1995.
Much of Horn’s career is documented in the Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, Record Group 331, and the various collections that comprise the Records of Central Collecting Points (“Ardelia Hall Collection”) of Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.), Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, Record Group 260.