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George Clooney and the National Archives: One degree of separation

M. SGT Harold Maus of Scranton, PA, is pictured with a Durer engraving, found among other art treasures at the Merkers Mine. 5/13/45. (ARC 5757194)

Today’s guest post was written by Miriam Kleiman, who works in the National Archives Public Affairs Office.

George Clooney’s next film—which he will write, direct, and star in—is based on holdings from the National Archives! 

Clooney announced last weekend that his number-one priority is to make a film about the “Monuments Men,” a group of cultural scholars and historians who donned Army uniforms to serve the Allies by rescuing, identifying, and trying to return precious artworks looted by Adolf Hitler.

Clooney shared with the press that while the Monuments Men were not trained for combat, they did face live fire and even had to give orders. He offered a possible example: “Don’t aim your tank over there, that’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa!” And it will be a big-budget film, not a small artsy one.

Clooney is now working on the screenplay. The movie will be an adaptation of Robert Edsel’s 2009 book, The Monuments MenAllied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.

Edsel is no stranger to the National Archives. His work is largely based on National Archives records, including those of the Office of Strategic Services Art Looting Unit, images from the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and records of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives branch of the Office of Military Government, U.S. Zone (Germany).

In Monuments Men, Edsel praises the National Archives as “a marvel to behold” and thanks “the many fine people at NARA” for their assistance. He has done extensive research here, and has spoken at National Archives public programs and press events. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on a number of occasions and admire his commitment and dedication.

General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Allied commander, inspects art treasures looted by the Germans and stored away in the Merkers salt mine. Behind GEN Eisenhower are General Omar N. Bradley (left), CG of the 12th Army Group, and (right) LT Gen George S. Patton, Jr, CG, 3rd U.S. Army. 4/12/45.

Among the National Archives holdings used by Edsel are Captured German Records including those of the Third Reich’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), which was organized under Reich Leader Alfred Rosenberg and ordered by Hermann Goering to confiscate Jewish art collections. The ERR unit was of particular interest to Hitler, who demanded that all confiscated works of art be brought to Germany and placed at his personal disposal.

The Nazis were meticulous record keepers. The ERR created leather-bound volumes to highlight their stolen treasures, update Hitler on their work, and serve as a catalog from which Hitler could choose art treasures for his planned Art Museum in Linz, Austria. Nearly 100 such so-called “Hitler albums” were created.

Alfred Rosenberg presented Hitler with a few of  these albums on the Fuhrer’s birthday in 1943, to “send a ray of beauty and joy into [his] revered life.” At the end of the war, the U.S. Army recovered 39 of these albums, which were first used by Monuments Men to help identify art work to be restituted and later used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations. It was believed that the missing ERR albums had been destroyed.

However, Edsel learned of additional surviving albums. At a press conference at the National Archives on November 1, 2007, Edsel announced the discovery of two original Hitler albums, and said that he would donate these volumes to the National Archives. 

Of course, Clooney’s upcoming film will feature a love story! Rose Valland was a member of the French resistance who volunteered at the French art museum Jeu de Paume and, Edsel wrote, “ingratiated herself with the Nazis . . . and, unbeknownst to them, spied on their activities” throughout the war.  Following the liberation of Paris, she shared this secret information with the Monuments Men. 

In the book, Edsel describes Valland as “an unassuming but determined single woman with a forgettable bland style and manner.” But I imagine her Hollywood depiction may be different! The National Archives has records on her, too, detailing her work with the Monuments Men to retrieve looted French artwork discovered by the 7th U.S. Army in tunnels under a castle at Neuschwanstein, Bavaria.

Edsel refers to the Monuments Men as “an unknown story.” Thanks to his work, and to George Clooney, these courageous men and women will be remembered.

Personally, I would be happy to meet and escort Mr. Clooney on a VIP tour of the National Archives. I’ll be waiting by the phone. As a public servant, it’s the least I can do for my country. 

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Comment from Peg
Time January 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Loved this post, Miriam! And I’m glad to know the lengths to which our public servants are willing to go to serve their country. I hope you get your chance.

Miriam Kleiman Reply:

Thanks, Peg! Fingers crossed!

Comment from Steve
Time January 18, 2012 at 4:54 pm

This is so cool! Will the Archives set up a special area on their site featuring selected gems pertaining to the Monuments Men?

Hilary Reply:

Great idea! We’ll look into it–we’ll get some things up on Flickr as well.

Comment from Ellen
Time January 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Just finished this well-researched book that preserves the legacy of those who served To preserve, protect and safeguard important works of art…Bravo to George Clooney take this on…!!!!!!

Miriam Reply:

What a neat tribute to the surviving Monuments Men and their families!

Comment from Jane
Time January 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Thanks for this fascinating post.

Miriam Reply:

Thanks for the nice feedback. There’s a fascinating documentary about the Monuments Men But I imagine Hollywood will take this a few steps further…

Comment from Rick P.
Time January 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Hey!!! Way to go Scranton, PA!!!!!!!

Miriam Reply:

Hi Rick,
Check out this 1964 St. Patrick’s day speech by Robert Kennedy to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Lackawanna County, Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Comment from Kim
Time January 20, 2012 at 8:25 am

Great article! I think it’s wonderful how the National Archives has been an integral part of the country’s history.

Comment from Richard
Time January 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Please provide a citation for the source of the photo for which the caption reads: “General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Allied commander, inspects art treasures looted by the Germans and stored away in the Merkers salt mine. Behind GEN Eisenhower are General Omar N. Bradley (left), CG of the 12th Army Group, and (right) LT Gen George S. Patton, Jr, CG, 3rd U.S. Army. 4/12/45.” It is nice to have the caption, but better to know where the original can be found, especially if it is in NARA’s custody.

Miriam Reply:

Hi Richard,
The citation for that image is RG 111-SC-204516, or Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, image number 204516, U.S. National Archives, College Park, MD. See more incredible looted art-related images at

Comment from Preston
Time January 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Miriam -
Nice article! I’ve been trying to find some info at NARA@work Home – but I keep finding more interesting stuff – like the Clooney piece. Thanks.

Miriam Reply:

Hi Preston –
There’s never a shortage of interesting stuff here at NARA! Stay tuned for a blog post about Hitler’s dentist!

Comment from Carrie M.
Time January 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Great post, Miriam. Really interesting!

Miriam Reply:

Thanks, Carrie!

Comment from Preston
Time January 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Hitler’s dentist!?! As Tommy Lee Jones said in the movie – No Country for Old Men – “You can’t make this stuff up. I dare you to even try!” ;-)

Miriam Reply:

Here’s the link to the new post about Hitler’s Ivy League-educated dentist!

Comment from Richard
Time January 23, 2012 at 5:49 pm

The full citation for the photo featuring Gen. Eisenhower is: General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Allied commander, inspects art treasures looted by the Germans and stored away in the Merkers salt mine. Behind GEN Eisenhower are General Omar N. Bradley (left), CG of the 12th Army Group, and (right) LT Gen George S. Patton, Jr, CG, 3rd U.S. Army. 4/12/45. RG 111-SC-204516, or Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, image number 204516. ARC ID: 531272. War and Conflict Number 1099, please use this number when ordering a reproduction or requesting information about this image.

Comment from Lynley
Time January 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Miriam, what a great story. You know, I’ll bet you could write an incredible book filled with all the amazing stories you’ve heard while working at the Archives. It would be a best seller!

Pingback from The Text Message » 13 Rue Madeleine and the National Archives
Time May 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

[...] I thought it would be wonderful to have Mr. Clooney’s movie open and close in the same manner as 13 Rue Madeleine, even if an archives stack area was recreated and the scenes were shot on a Hollywood film set.  Instead of a file cabinet, a shelf or two of archival boxes of the records of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives officers (i.e., the Monuments Men) that Mr. Edsel used in writing his book could be shown, with a box being pulled off the shelf and opened at the beginning of the movie and the box being closed and placed back on the shelf at the end of the movie.  I traveled with the Archivist, David Ferriero, to Dallas last spring to receive from Mr. Edsel, head of the Monuments Men Foundation, the very kind donation to the National Archives of two Hitler photo albums showing looted art.  However, I did not take the opportunity to bring up the subject with Mr. Edsel, even when he showed the Archivist and me a recent photo of him with George Clooney. Perhaps Mr. Edsel will see this blog post and pass my idea along to George Clooney.  And then, perhaps, Mr. Clooney will visit the National Archives and Miriam Kleiman of the Public Affairs staff will get her wish to show him around as she offered in her blog post about the book and the movie. [...]