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Greg Bradsher: Monuments Men expert at the National Archives

Robert Edsel, author of The Monuments Men, the book on which the film was based, will speak at the National Archives tonight at 7 p.m. You also watch online at Ustream: Edsel and a panel will discuss his books as well as the recent film adaptation. The panel includes our senior archivist Greg Bradsher.

The Monuments Men opened in theaters on February 7, but its origins began at our very own National Archives nearly 20 years ago.

Senior archivist Greg Bradsher has been at the National Archives for 37 years. Early in his career, he processed and appraised records relating to Holocaust-era assets. For him, the story of the Monuments Men is a massive treasure hunt spanning the globe.

“In the mid- to late-1990s, Holocaust-era assets suddenly became a hot topic,” Bradsher recalled. ”At the time, I was the Assistant Branch Chief to Research Services at Archives II, so they asked me to become an expert since I already had the knowledge to deal with different researcher interests.”

The 90th Division discovered this Reichsbank wealth, SS loot, and Berlin museum paintings that were removed from Berlin to a salt mine in Merkers, Germany., 04/15/1945

The 90th Division discovered this Reichsbank wealth, SS loot, and Berlin museum paintings that were removed from Berlin to a salt mine in Merkers, Germany., 04/15/1945

His expertise came in handy when then-researcher Miriam Kleiman came to Archives II in March 1996 looking for records related to Swiss bank accounts during the Holocaust. Naturally, Bradsher was tapped to assist her. (Kleiman is now working at the National Archives as a Public Affairs specialist and occasional blogger.)

“Within weeks, the Senate had hearings on the subject,” Bradsher recalled. “And then it just snowballed. I mean, looted gold. Looted art. Swiss bank accounts. Unpaid insurance policies. It got so busy that I collapsed and was taken to the hospital.”

After his health scare, Bradsher decided to step down as a supervisor to focus on all the different activities required of him, such as testifying before Congress, working with a Presidential Commission, and dealing with foreign governments. “It was very stressful,” he said. “They were concerned with anything that impacts reputations or cost money. And they were very concerned with what the records say.”

And, as we know, the National Archives has a lot of records.

So Bradsher produced a 1,100-page finding aid.

“The President wanted a report on the subject, so I produced the finding aid as an appendix to it,” he explained. “We were overwhelmed with researchers, and eventually started a process to microfilm key records, which were subsequently digitized and made available online. Finding aids save a lot of time for researchers and staff because we don’t have to answer questions over and over again. And digitization helps protect the documents from the wear and tear of constant use.”

In the summer and fall of 1996, Bradsher became the National Archives representative on an interagency committee on Holocaust-era assets put together by President Bill Clinton. Congressional hearings in 1997 and 1998 discussed looted art and unpaid insurance from the Holocaust. “The room was packed,” Bradsher said. “Art is more sexy than insurance, but both are very important, with lots of money involved. The same issues came up in the art world. People have artwork they shouldn’t legally have. It was like a pebble thrown into water: Swiss bank accounts expanded to gold, expanded to art.”

The records were useful in helping establish people’s rights to certain things, especially since laws of legal ownership vary widely from country to country. In the United States, if a person comes to own a piece of art that is stolen, that item will always be considered stolen and will have to go back to its legal owner. However, in Europe, if a person happens to own a stolen artwork in good faith, then they are generally allowed to keep it. The efforts of the international community to return stolen works to the proper owners is ongoing to this day, and these records remain vital to provenance researchers and attorneys.

During the course of his work, Bradsher was surprised by how thoroughly detailed the records are, especially during wartime. He was also surprised to learn that there were ten United States agencies involved in dealing with looted assets, and to see the cooperation among them. The Monuments Men were just a part of the collective international effort.

"Wintergarden," a painting by the French Impressionist Edouard Manet, was discovered in the vault at Merkers. (National Archives,  5757184)

“Wintergarden,” a painting by the French Impressionist Edouard Manet, was discovered in the vault at Merkers. (National Archives,

Bradsher modestly says he only had an indirect relationship to the movie, but he did have a direct hand in Robert Edsel’s research for his book, The Monuments Men.

By the time Edsel visited Archives II to conduct research on his book, Bradsher was already something of an expert with Monuments Men records. In his own research in 1999, he found an interesting story about Merkers Mine, so he wrote the story for Prologue magazine. At the time, Bradsher thought it was interesting, but did not know that his article would eventually become a scene in a motion picture.

“I wrote the article for Prologue before the movie was ever something that was going to happen,” Bradsher said, still sounding stunned. “The movie is visible evidence of the importance of records, and the staff who made it possible. I worked with Stuart Eizenstat for four years, beginning when he was Under Secretary of Commerce and then as Under Secretary of State, and I pretty much stole his term for what we do: ‘What we’re doing as the US government is turning history into justice.’ NARA’s holdings are helping to turn history into justice.”

When asked about what inspires him to keep digging into history, Bradsher chuckled.

“You mean, am I bored? No. Like many archivists, I have a curiousity about things,” he said. “My job is basically stumbling on records and saying ‘Hey, that’s an interesting story.’ Just when you think you know everything about something, you find out there’s more information you didn’t know.”

Bradsher added that he’s amazed by the interest shown in the Monuments Men records over the years.

“In the beginning, when I was first processing the records, I didn’t have a clue,” he said. ”If you had told me that, in 10 or 15 years, these records would be one of the most requested things at the National Archives, I would’ve just laughed!”

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.



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.



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.

Additional resources:



State Dinners at the White House

Today’s post comes from the National Archives Office of Presidential Libraries.

King David Kalakaua of Hawaii was the first head of state to be honored with a White House state dinner on December 12, 1874, by President and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. In the years that have followed, state dinners have come to signify the utmost respect for visiting heads of state. Each state dinner is a historic event with the power to cement friendships with allies and foster cooperation.


Invitation to the state dinner for President Giscard d’Estaing of France, May17, 1976.

Months of meticulous planning go into a state dinner. The guest of honor’s country, culture, and favored preferences are thoroughly researched. The First Lady often chooses the décor and entertainment to highlight a certain aspect of American culture. Together, these considerations are translated into invitations, menus, guest lists, and entertainment. The results can be a form of diplomatic dialogue between the host and guest cultures.

In 1976, First Lady Betty Ford chose “light” as the theme for the state dinner honoring French President Giscard d’Estaing. The theme was inspired by France’s Bicentennial gift to the United States, a sound and light show staged at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Centerpieces were designed for each table using early American lighting items loaned from the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. These included a period lanterns, candelabra, and candlesticks made of tin, pewter, brass, and wrought iron.

The floral arrangements featured anemones, the favorite flower of Mrs. Giscard d’Estaing. The tableclothes featured reproductions of an original French textile dating from around 1775 from the Textile Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the exchange of state gifts following the arrival ceremony, President Giscard d’Estaing presented President Ford with an antique 18th-century printing press that was set up to print copies of the Declaration of Independence.


Presidents Ford and Giscard d’Estaing view the state gift from France, an antique 18th- century printing press set up to print copies of the Declaration of Independence, May 17, 1976.

The White House took into account that the French had indicated that they would serve lobster and duckling at the reciprocal dinner at their embassy the following evening. Mrs. Ford approved a menu of Columbia River salmon, sauce verte, filet of beef, artichokes Saint Germain, mushroooms Provencale, bibb lettuce salad, brie cheese, basket grand marnier, petits fours, and demitasse.

Although state dinners are watched closely for the glamor and protocol on display, the evenings also serve the serious diplomatic function of solidifying strong international alliances. When Franklin D. Roosevelt invited England’s King George VI for a visit to the United States, the significance of the invitation did not go unnoticed. No reigning British monarch had ever set foot on American soil, not even in colonial times.

FDR’s invitation to the King signified the dawn of a new era in American and British cooperation. With Europe poised on the brink of war, FDR realized the necessity of fostering closer ties between the two democracies. FDR believed so strongly in the need for cooperation that he pursued this change in foreign policy at the risk of losing domestic support from the very strong isolationist and anti-British segments of the electorate. FDR planned every minute detail of the visit to ensure the King’s success in winning over the sympathy and support of the American people.

At the state dinner held on June 8, 1939, a concert of American music was chosen for the entertainment including spirituals, cowboy ballads, and folk songs. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited African American opera singer Marian Anderson to perform in a program that included “Ava Maria” for the royal audience.


Seating arrangements for the state dinner for George VI of the United Kingdom, hosted by President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 8, 1939.

Ultimately, President and Mrs. Roosevelt’s hospitality paid off. George VI’s visit to the United States was a key component in developing a stronger political and social alliance between the United States and Great Britain. In President Roosevelt’s toast to the King, he expressed a wish that still captures the spirit of the state dinner tradition, saying, “May this kind of understanding between our countries grow ever closer, and may our friendship prosper.”

We’ve put together a gallery here of White House state visit images from the holdings of the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives. We also have a Tumblr blog on the state dinners hosted by President and Mrs. Ford, where you can explore invitations, menus, state gifts, and photos:

Learn more at


King and Queen Prajadhipok of Siam at the White House for a state visit with President Hoover, April 30, 1931.

3_HST_Brazil State Dinner

President and Mrs. Truman and President Eurico Gaspar Dutra of Brazil at a state dinner, September 5, 1947.


President and Mrs. Eisenhower at the state dinner for President and Madame de Gaulle of France, April 22, 1960.

5_JFK_State Dinner Ivory Coast

State dinner for President Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast. From left to right, President and Madame Houphouet-Boigny, President and Mrs. Kennedy at the Grand Staircase, May 22, 1962.


President and Mrs. Nixon and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR en route to the Blue Room to receive dinner guests, June 18, 1973.

10_JC_State Dinner_Vaugn Gillespie

Sarah Vaughn and Dizzy Gillespie entertain guest at the state dinner for the Shah of Iran, November 15, 1977.

11_RR_State Dinner_Turkey in Rose Garden 1988

State dinner for President Kenan Evren of Turkey, hosted by President and Mrs. Reagan in the Rose Garden, June 27, 1988.

12_GB_Floral arrangements

A florist works on arrangements for the state dinner for King Hassan II of Morocco, September 26, 1991.


President and Mrs. Bush escort Prime Minister Mazowiecki of Poland at a state dinner, March 21, 1990.

14_WJC_State Dinner place setting

Table setting and decoration for the state dinner for President Jiang of China, hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton, October 29, 1997.

15_GWB_State Dinner India 071805

State dinner menu for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs. Gursharan Kaur of India, hosted by President and Mrs. George W. Bush, July 18, 2005.


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 movie, Clooney’s character is based on Stout.

Along with the caskets were treasures from the Hohenzollern Museum in Berlin, including items used at the 1701 coronation of King Frederick I and Queen Sophie. U.S. troops found two swords with gold and silver scabbards, a jeweled scepter and orb, and two crowns.

Two finely wrought swords of Frederick the Great. (National Archives,  239-pa-4-127-1)

Two finely wrought swords of Frederick the Great. (National Archives, 239-PA-4-127-1)

But what did they do with the four caskets? This was no ordinary find; this involved high politics.

“It was perhaps one of the most unlikely and interesting World War II German cultural property evacuation endeavors,” writes Greg Bradsher, the National Archives’ expert on how the Nazis looted art and cultural effects from the nations of Europe. And Life magazine called it “one of the most curious and complicated enterprises” undertaken by the U.S. Army of occupation.

Bradsher reveals what happened to the caskets in “Monuments Men and Nazi Treasures” in a recent issue of Prologue magazine, the National Archives’ flagship publication.

The Monuments Men were members of a special unit of Allied soldiers in Europe at the end of World War II. Officially, this unit was called the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives (MFA&A) section, but unofficially, they were the Monuments Men. The mission of the Monuments Men: Protect cultural property from destruction and damage by Allied forces and to find and save works of art and other cultural artifacts that the Nazis had seized.

George Stout, Sgt Travese, Walker Hancock, Lt. Kovalyak

Monuments Men (from left to right) George Stout, Sgt. Travese, Walker Hancock, and Lt. Kovalyak at the excavation of Bernterode. George Clooney plays a character based on Stout in the movie. (Walker Hancock Collection, courtesy of the Monuments Men Foundation.)

The storyline of the movie might be new to audiences, but it’s a familiar plot for one of our archivists. Bradsher is a senior archivist specializing in World War II intelligence, looted assets, and war crimes and is a frequent contributor to Prologue, using documents from the National Archives.

Bradsher has been on this story for some time. In 1999, he wrote an article for Prologue called “Nazi Gold: The Merkers Mine Treasure.” It tells the story of the treasures that U.S. Army troops found in the Merkers Mine and recalls the day top U.S. commanders—Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton and others—went down into the mine to inspect what the Nazis had hidden there.

Don’t miss your chance to hear Bradsher talk about his archival research along with Robert M. Edsel, author of The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.

On February 19 at 7 p.m. in the McGowan Theater at the National Archives, Edsel will discuss his book and the film adaptation along with Bradsher and others. A book signing will follow the program.

(And if you need more Monuments Men, the Archives of American Art has just opened their new exhibit “Monuments Men: On the Frontline to Save Europe’s Art, 1942–1946.”)

“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 know?

evans gunner

From left to right: Pfc Evan Evans; Pvt. Roy E. Boone; and Pfc. John S.Gembarowski. Full caption on the negative jacket pictured below.

Original jacket of the negative image

Original jacket of the negative image

Needless to say, I was amazed, and Mr. Evans was overjoyed! He wrote me a touching letter saying how he’d never expected that a photo of him would be in the Archives. Seeing it brought back for him a flood of memories and emotions. And yep, I teared up, too.

Some time later, a new orientation exhibit was being installed in the basement area of Archives II and there was a call for “success stories” among the staff. I sent along my story, and it was selected for display. Here it is in 2013.

exhibit evans

Making someone’s day—there’s really nothing better! What needles have you found in your archival haystack? Tell us about your home run!