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Nazi Art Looter’s Diary, Long Missing, Found and Online for the First Time

Don’t miss Robert Edsel at the National Archives on February 19 at 7 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Today’s blog post comes from Miriam Kleiman of the National Archives Public Affairs Office.

The new Monuments Men blockbuster film opens with Herman Goering gleefully viewing looted artwork at a Parisian art museum.  The biggest art theft in history–the Nazi’s systematic and looting of more than a million items–was spearheaded and managed by Alfred Rosenberg.  For the first time, anyone (who reads German) can read Rosenberg’s diary and peek inside the mind of an architect of Nazi policy and the top art looter of the of the Nazi Regime.

Artworks that were confiscated and collected for Adolf Hitler, seen here examining art in a storage facility, were designated for a proposed Führermuseum in Linz, Austria. (National Archives, 242-HB-32016-1)

Artworks that were confiscated and collected for Adolf Hitler, seen here examining art in a storage facility, were designated for a proposed Führermuseum in Linz, Austria. (National Archives, 242-HB-32016-1)

Rosenberg’s diary was collected for possible use as evidence at Nuremberg, where prosecutors noted its importance: “Perhaps foremost among the prize acquisitions [of the captured records] was the neatly crated collection of all the personal and official correspondence of Alfred Rosenberg…” Rosenberg was convicted of crimes against humanity and hanged in 1946.

The bulk of his diary vanished shortly afterwards and has been recovered only recently with the help of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice. The diary was transferred to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on December 17, 2013, and is now available online.

Alfred Rosenberg headed the Third Reich’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, the main agency for the systematic looting of art and cultural treasures in Nazi-occupied countries.  Hitler ordered that all looted art be brought to Germany and placed at his personal disposal. The ERR created a series of albums meticulously documenting its thefts.

These so-called “Hitler Albums” featured the “best of looted art” for Hitler to view and select for his planned art museum in Linz. A group of Allied soldiers from the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program—the group known as the Monuments Men—discovered 39 of these albums in 1945, and used them to restore artworks to their owners. These volumes also served as evidence in the Nuremburg trials and are in the holdings of the National Archives.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower inspects art treasures looted by the Germans and stored in the depths of a salt mine in Germany along with gold, silver, and paper currency. The mine was captured by U.S. Third Army troops. Behind DDE are (left) General Omar Bradley and (right) Lt. General George S. Patton (Eisenhower Presidential Library)

General Dwight D. Eisenhower inspects art treasures looted by the Germans and stored in the depths of a salt mine in Germany along with gold, silver, and paper currency. The mine was captured by U.S. Third Army troops. Behind DDE are (left) General Omar Bradley and (right) Lt. General George S. Patton (Eisenhower Presidential Library, National Archives Identifier 531272 )

Rosenberg’s newly found diary has entries dating from 1936 to 1944, and reveal an insecure man desperate for Hitler’s praise, sharply critical of other Nazi leaders, and fiercely anti-Semitic.  Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, called Rosenberg “the intellectual high priest of the ‘master race,’” adding that he “provided the doctrine of hatred which gave the impetus for the annihilation of Jewry.”

The National Archives holds millions of records created or received by the U.S. Government during and after World War II relating to the Nazi-era looted cultural assets, including the original records of the ERR and the Monuments Men. These voluminous National Archives holdings document the activities and investigations of U.S. Government agencies involved in the identification and recovery of looted assets, including the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and U.S. occupation forces in Germany and Austria. The materials also include contain captured German records about looted art, the ERR’s card file and related photographs. The National Archives has sections of Rosenberg’s original diary from 1934 to 1935, and copies of other sections.

 

RELATED DOCUMENT DISPLAY:  The Monuments Men

Through Thursday, February 20, East Rotunda Gallery

The “Hitler Albums”—Meticulously Documented Plunder

Until recently, it was believed that the missing ERR albums had been destroyed during the latter days of World War II.  However, thanks to Robert Edsel’s efforts, additional albums have been recovered and donated to the National Archives.  This album on special display was donated by Edsel in 2012.

 

RELATED PROGRAM:  The Monuments Men with Robert Edsel

Wednesday, February 19 at 7 p.m., William G. McGowan Theater

Robert Edsel has dedicated years to painstaking research about the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program—the group known as the Monuments Men—and has written several books including The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. Edsel and a panel will discuss his books, the recent film adaptation starring George Clooney, his work as founder and chairman of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, and the work of the Monuments Men.

The panel includes Greg Bradsher, senior archivist at the National Archives and author of Holocaust-Era Assets: A Finding Aid to Records at the National Archives at College Park, MD; Nancy Yeide, head of the Department of Curatorial Records at the National Gallery of Art; Michael Kurtz, professor at University of Maryland College of Information Studies and former Assistant Archivist for Records Services at the National Archives; and Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, President Clinton’s special representative on Holocaust-era issues.

 

FEATURED PROLOGUE STORY on The Monuments Men

Dr. Greg Bradsher, a senior archivist and World War II expert, and author of Holocaust-Era Assets: A Finding Aid to Records at the National Archives at College Park, MD, tells one story of the Monuments Men in the latest issue of the Prologue magazine  Bradsher shares the fascinating story of how U.S. soldiers found a cache of treasures, and called in the Monuments Men for help.  The find included four caskets—with the remains of Frederick the Great, Frederick William I, and President Paul von Hindenberg and his wife.

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