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Archive for '- World War II'

You won’t see this in the Monuments Men movie

As the recently-opened movie Monuments Men plays around the country, there’s one macabre story you won’t see on the silver screen.

It’s about the remains of German leaders, including Frederick the Great and Frederick William I.

Coffin of Frederick the Great was found draped with a Nazi flag  in the Berterode Mine, May 1, 1945 (National Archives).

The coffin of Frederick the Great was found draped with a Nazi flag in the Bernterode Mine, May 1, 1945. (Walker Hancock Collection, courtesy of the Monuments Men Foundation.)

The Germans had hidden the caskets containing the bodies of the Fredericks and former Weimar President Paul von Hindenburg and his wife in a mine in a remote area to conceal them from the approaching Russian troops. But the war ended, and U.S. troops made it to the mine first and found the caskets. They were in a room divided into different compartments hung with brilliants flags.

Capt. Walker K. Hancock, an officer specialist with the Monuments Men, described the scene: “Crawling through the opening into the hidden room, I was at once forcibly struck with the realization that this was no ordinary deposit of works of art. The place had the aspect of a shrine . . . all suggested the setting for a modern pagan ritual.”

Naval Reserve Lt. George Stout, one of the foremost experts on art conservation, later described the casket in an oral history interview with the Archives of American Art in 1978. In the … [ Read all ]

“I was a gunner and a gun captain on a 90MM-AAA gun during World War II…”

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Now, maybe it’s happened to you: that “needle in a haystack,” “home run,” unbelievable find that blew you away, and brought joy to a researcher. We archival folks live for that moment.

Let me share with you one such moment from my career. During busy times in the Still Picture Branch, the processing staff can be called upon to help answer reference letters, or staff the research room. One day in early 1995, I was asked to help with the backlog of letters.

This one from Mr. Evan Evans looked promising:

Letter from Mr. Evans

Letter from Mr. Evans

A 90mm antiaircraft gun? No problem! We have tons of photos of various artillery pieces and vehicles in our files. Or so I thought.

I spent half the day trying to track down a decent shot of the antiaircraft gun Mr. Evans requested, and I came up empty. Then I read through his letter again. He and his gun crew set a record for downing 12 Japanese bombers over Rendova? Maybe they had been photographed after their feat; the military services are always on the lookout for a good story to tell the folks back home.

So I checked out series 127-GW, under the heading Rendova . . . and what do you … [ Read all ]

Monuments Men Coming to the National Archives

A new movie due for release next month tells the story of a special unit of Allied soldiers in Europe at the end of World War II. They were charged with finding and savings works of art and other cultural artifacts that the Nazis had seized.

Officially, this unit was called the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives (MFA&A) section, but unofficially, they were the Monuments Men. But you don’t have to wait until the movie, also called Monuments Men, is released to learn about them. Greg Bradsher, a senior archivist and a specialist in this period in history, tells one story of the Monuments Men in the latest issue of Prologue magazine.

Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer James Rorimer supervises U.S. soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany during World War II, April-May, 1945.

Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer James Rorimer supervises U.S. soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany during World War II, April-May, 1945.

Bradsher is a frequent contributor to Prologue and an archivist specializing in World War II intelligence, looted assets, and war crimes.
In his article, Bradsher provides an account of how U.S. soldiers found a cache of treasures and called in the Monuments Men.
The most unusual find was a group of four caskets—with the remains of Frederick the Great, Frederick William I, and President Paul von Hindenberg and his wife. What happened to them? Bradsher has the answer.

The movie has an all-star cast: Oscar … [ Read all ]

National Archives documents on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

The design drawings for the Medal of Freedom in the temporary case at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History

The design drawings for the Medal of Freedom in the temporary case at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History

Some of our documents made a special trip across Constitution Avenue today, traveling from the National Archives Building to our neighbor on the Mall, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Tonight, the museum is hosting a dinner for this year’s sixteen recipients of the nation’s highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Over the past fifty years, the award has been given to 500 people. President Kennedy re-established the Medal of Freedom as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, eighteen years after it was first established by President Truman.

Although President Kennedy was killed just two weeks before the planned award ceremony, President Johnson went forward with the first award ceremony. Marian Anderson was among the first 31 recipients. He also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to President Kennedy.

You can watch tonight’s ceremony live online.

Karen Hibbitt, registrar at the National Archives, and conservator Lauren Varga accompanied the documents and prepared the display, and they will remain there during the event to ensure the safety of the documents.

Registrar Karen Hibbitt arranges the documents for the display case.

Registrar Karen Hibbitt arranges the documents for the display case.

The featured documents are Executive Order 11085 and a set of design drawings. On February 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed … [ Read all ]

Spielberg Film Festival: Saving Private Ryan

Steven Spielberg is being honored by the Foundation for the National Archives for his film legacy, which has brought history to life on the big screen. The National Archives is celebrating the award with a film festival, and Saving Private Ryan is the first film to be screened. Join us tonight, Friday, November 15. For details on the award and the times of the free screenings, go here.)

In Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan, a squad of Army Rangers search for Pfc. James Francis Ryan (played by Matt Damon) who is the last surviving brother of four servicemen. Seems like something that could only happen in the movies?

Unfortunately, history is stranger, and sadder, than fiction. Many stories of lost and missing brothers can be found in our records.

Twenty-three sets of brothers were killed on the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The photo below shows a service jacket and salvaged service record, with Navy envelope, for William Wells. Wells enlisted at Kansas City, MO, on January 1, 1940, and died December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor after achieving the rank of Signalman 3rd class. His brother, Raymond Virgil Wells, was also on the Arizona and died that day.

Service record for William Wells. (National Archives Identifier 299693)

Service record for William Wells. (National Archives Identifier 299693)

Sometimes the decision to preserve these kinds of records means not treating … [ Read all ]