Robert Edsel's Blog

Archive for August, 2009


August 31st, 2009 | 11:34 am


Nazi Party number 2 man Goering announced his intentions plainly, and well in advance, when he said, “I intend to plunder and to do it thoroughly”.  And plunder he did.  By the time of his arrest, he had amassed more paintings in his personal collection than exist today in the National Gallery of Art’s European painting section, some 1800 plus works.

My colleague, and the world’s leading authority on Hermann Goering and his painting collection, historian Nancy Yeide, Head of Curatorial Records at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., has recently completed a seven year study and has written a masterpiece entitled Beyond the Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection.  Nancy’s exhaustive analysis is groundbreaking research that will no doubt lead to the identification of works of art previously unknown to have been a part of the Reichsmarschall’s collection.  More importantly, in time it will make possible the return of paintings to the victims of the greatest theft in history.  It is active detective work of the highest caliber.


There was a wonderful interview with Nancy in The Washington Times yesterday.  To read about her and her tremendous accomplishment, please click on the following link.

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August 28th, 2009 | 4:19 pm

Statue of President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in London

Bronze Sculpture of President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in London. (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.)

Before departing London I passed by these two really interesting looking guys and asked them to make some bench space for me on what was a glorious sunny day.  OK, well, it was a pretty humorous setting to sink low enough onto the bench to grab this photo while all the passers-by stopped to take my photo of trying to get this photo!

President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were stallwart allies and became good friends before FDR’s death on April 12, 1945.  This wonderful bronze sculpture at the end of New Bond Street stops not just tourists but Londoners who enjoy spending a moment looking at these two remarkable leaders.  It is but one of many landmarks in the Westminster area of London that remind us of the historic events that took place there 60 plus years ago.

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August 27th, 2009 | 12:20 pm


On the night of August 24, 1940, German bombs fell on London for the first time during World War II.

The Luftwaffe began bombing industrial targets in England in early July, and had recently increased night bombing runs. Perhaps worried that Churchill would be even less likely to negotiate, or out of fear that British bombs would fall on Berlin in retaliation, Hitler had been ignoring his military advisor’s urgings to bomb the capital itself. However on the night of August 24, 170 Heinkel HE 111s set out to bomb oil installations at Thameshaven and an aircraft factory in Rochester, but veered off course and bombed parts of London by mistake.

It might not have been an intentional military maneuver, but the first bombings of London marked a turning point early in the war. Churchill angrily ordered the bombing of Berlin, which had also been avoided until this point. On the night of August 25-26, the RAF Bomber Command sent 95 planes to hit industrial targets in the German capital, most notably the Tempelhof Airport and the Siemensstadt area of factory buildings. 81 of the planes dropped bombs on Berlin that night. Five more raids on Berlin occurred within the next two weeks, but damage was minimal.

Hitler was in turn angered by the retaliation bombing, and decided to proceed with a sustained attack on London. He was convinced that the terror bombing would make the British more likely to negotiate after all, and ordered “for disruptive attacks on the population and air defenses of major British cities, including London, by day and night.”

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August 26th, 2009 | 3:02 pm

Ted Kennedy

Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy (1932 - 2009)

Senator Ted Kennedy, whose leadership of this nation spanned half a century, has died of a brain tumor. He lived 77 years, but filled them with far more than that of experiences.  In my view, despite his ambitions and those of his family to be elected president, he had a far broader and more lasting impact on our nation as Senator of Massachusetts.

This man was a critical early supporter of our Senate Resolution to honor the Monuments Men and women of all 13 nations. Out initial contacts with Senators began in January 2007 with visits to all 100 offices at the three buildings in which they office.  Christy Fox, who has been such a vital part of ongoing effort to recognize these heroes and preserve their legacy, accompanied me and helped me carry some of the Rescuing Da Vinci books we were giving each Senator as a way of explaining who these men and women were.  Senator Kennedy was one of the earliest visits we made.

Just entering his office was an overwhelming experience; I had to sit down and catch my breath.  On the walls were literally hundreds of photographs that covered the past 50 years of this country’s history:  every world leader, every major event–happy and sad, every notable moment was captured in some photograph hanging on those walls.  It was a visual representation of the trials and accomplishments of a young nation growing up, and the common denominator was Senator Ted Kennedy.

We quickly received word he supported the proposed Resolution full on.  With his Harvard connections to the Monuments Men (more than 30 were educated there), Boston connections to its great museums including the Museum of Fine Art and Isabella Stewart Gardner, and his long-standing support of the arts, it was no surprise he wanted to honor these heroes of civilization and assist our efforts.  But the moment I shall never forget was returning from a run one hot afternoon several months later to open my mailbox and see a letter from Senator Kennedy to me which stated, in part, the following:


With Senator Kennedy’s death we lose a stalwart champion of caring for others, especially those among our great nation whose voices are too often ignored.  He used his privilege and resources to make the world around him a better place.  His was a lifetime of service on behalf of others.  We as a nation, and in fact our world, are diminished for his loss.

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August 25th, 2009 | 11:10 am


Imagine for a moment the unimaginable:  your family, generations of loved ones who carried the same last name and with it the history of your lineage, killed during a horrific and lengthy war.  All their property was stolen.  You somehow survived.  Years later, while busy building a career, perhaps a family, struggling to make ends meet, you discover a painting that once belonged to your family hanging on someone else’s wall…perhaps a private collector, a museum, or an art gallery.  You may even have a photo of it hanging in your family’s living room before the war, perhaps some documents evidencing their ownership.

When you contact the current owner, you are stonewalled and eventually told – it’s too late.  The statute of limitations has run its course.  You should have filed a claim sooner.  “But I didn’t know where it was…I couldn’t afford an attorney…I didn’t have time to search these databases – I”m trying to raise a family and hold down a job”.  How does that scenario make you feel?


Some today believe, in fact argue strenuously, that enough time has passed.  “After all, the war has been over for almost 65 years”.  They comment that this “thing” can’t continue to drag on and on…it isn’t “fair”.

The truth is this debate is playing out today in this country and others.  Vocal opponents – very influential people – argue enough is enough….bring an end to these claims.


I want to know what you think, how you feel about this debate.  Please send me your comments.  I’ll share them with you in a future blog along with my thoughts on the debate.

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August 24th, 2009 | 11:57 am

Headline from "Victory Extra", Boston Massachusetts (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.)

Headline from "Victory Extra", Boston Massachusetts (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.)

Headlines around the world trumpeted the news 65 years ago as the German Commander of Paris, Major General Dietrich von Choltitz, surrendered the occupying forces that had controlled the city for more than four years.  Despite orders from Hitler to lay waste to the city, Choltitz departed from his history of destruction and chose instead to surrender.  He would later say, “It is always my lot to defend the rear of the German Army.  And each time it happens I am ordered to destroy each city as I leave it.”

The Cathedayl of Notre Dame was not damaged, but fighting took place directly in front of the church. This burned-out truck was abandoned by German troops fleeing the city. (Photo Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.)

The Cathedral of Notre Dame was not damaged, but fighting took place directly in front of the church. This burned-out truck was abandoned by German troops fleeing the city. (Photo Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).)

On August 26th, the day after the German surrender, French General de Gaulle led a victory parade down the Champs-Elysees.  Three days later the United States 28th Infantry Division followed the same parade route to celebrate the reclaiming of the city.

American soldiers look upon the Eiffel Tower after Paris was liberated. (Photo Courtesy of NARA.)

American soldiers look upon the Eiffel Tower after Paris was liberated. (Photo Courtesy of NARA.)

Almost one year would pass before French museum officials were prepared to escort back to Paris its most famous “citizen”, the Mona Lisa. In the weeks that followed other treasures from the Louvre began their journey home from the chateaux and other hiding places where they sat out the war.

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August 22nd, 2009 | 8:18 pm

Robert M Edsel and Ollie

Ollie and I (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.)

Several months in Europe conducting research and visiting friends culminated this past week with the launch of The Monuments Men:  Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, my new book about these remarkable heroes of civilization.  I had numerous print, radio, and a few television appearances in front of worldwide audiences.  (Some of the links to these interviews can be found on this website).

I’ll take from this week alone several memories that will forever be cherished:  a celebratory dinner with close friends Thursday after the launch at one of my favorite restaurants; being “desperately” wanted by BBC World radio impromptu for an interview; and seeing one of my books in a bookstore.

But one of my happiest moments was meeting Ollie Brittan, a young boy who is working during the summer as an assistant to the very capable concierge team at Claridge’s Hotel headed by Martin, Miles, Karin, Bobby and others.  When I first introduced myself to Ollie and asked him if he liked working at Claridge’s, he said “I LOVE it Sir”.  Each day when I walked in with my arms full of books and press materials Ollie was there to assist me.

Before departing we had a chance to visit and I gave him a copy of my book.  This fine young boy, work ethic quite intact, has his sights set on one day working at Claridge’s.  I suggested to him he in fact might some day own it as hard working and polite as he is.  It was a wonderful way to end a remarkable summer as I now prepare for our biggest launch on September 3rd in the United States!

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August 21st, 2009 | 9:16 am


General Eisenhower Statue at Grosvenor Square in Hyde Park

Because I like to go running, I stay near Hyde Park when in London. Nearby Grosvenor Square is where I stretch, and on temperate days, often sit outdoors to read or enjoy a beautiful day. The Embassy of the United States, constructed in 1960, is located on the west side of Grosvenor Square. In fact, Grosvenor Square has been an outpost for the United States since 1785. John Adams, the first United States Minister to the Court of St. James’s and the second President of the United States, lived in a home located on the northeast side of the Square from 1785 to 1788.

Of greatest interest to me is the connection of Grosvenor Square to my hero, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who for brief period located his military headquarters at 20 Grosvenor Square. In 1989, on the northwest side of the Square, a life-size statue of General Eisenhower was positioned, paid for by the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri. On its stone foundation it says simply, “Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon a great crusade…the hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” (Order of the Day, June 6, 1944).

I walk by Ike’s statue every day I’m in London. I sit on the stone bench in front of it and think about how fortunate we are to be free and bask in the shadow of this great leader, a man who defined for all time integrity, magnanimity, and decency.

Eisenhower Statue in UK

General Eisenhower Statue at Grosvenor Square in Hyde Park at Night (Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection)

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August 20th, 2009 | 11:59 am

Monuments Men Book Cover United Kingdom

It’s been quite a wait since finishing the writing of The Monuments Men in April, but the wait is now over as the book appears today in bookstores and online throughout the United Kingdom.  I’m very excited about introducing these heroes of civilization and providing you an opportunity to share in their thrilling and yet harrowing story.

This week I’ve given a number of print interviews including Time Magazine, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Sunday Express, radio interviews on BBC which aired both throughout the United Kingdom and last night on BBC World Radio, and on television.  In fact, one interview I was particularly pleased to give was with BBC World.  (I’ve provided links below if you are interested!)

The people of London, and everyone with whom I’ve spoken, are very excited to hear about this great untold story of World War II and, in particular, these unknown heroes.  Later today and tomorrow I’ll be stopping into various bookstores to sign books and meet some of the people who I know will adopt these heroes just as I have.

Stay tuned…lots more news to follow!

BBC NEWS – The WWII Soldiers Who Saved Art

BBC RADIO – Monuments Men

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August 19th, 2009 | 9:05 am

Anne Popham Bell

Anne Popham Bell (Photo Courtesy of Anne Popham Bell's Collection.)

We speak so frequently of “Monuments Men” we oftentimes create the wrong impression that these heroes were all men.  In fact, there were 29 women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section during its eight years of existence. Fortunately, one of these women is still with us:  Anne Popham Bell.

Anne Popham was well prepared for work with the MFAA, as she studied art history at the Courtlauld Institute from 1934 to 1937. Her father, A.E. ‘Hugh’ Popham was a distinguished authority on Italian drawings, and Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, which collection was transferred for safety to Wales in advance of the German Blitzkrieg on London. Anne Popham’s ‘war work’ began in 1941 when she joined the Ministry of Information as a research assistant, first in the Photographs and then in Publications Divisions, largely concerned with the production of informative booklets on the British war effort published by His Majesty’s Stationary Office. In 1945 she transferred to the MFAA Branch of the Control Commission for Germany, and from October was stationed at Bunde in Westphalia, the Divisional Headquarters where she acted as coordinator to the work of the Branch’s officers on the ground. Her detailed diaries of her daily activities are preserved in the Imperial War Museum in London.

Following her return home from Germany in 1947, Popham joined the Art Department of the Arts Council of Great Britain, where she was engaged in the preparation of major exhibitions in London and the provinces, and in editing their authoritative catalogues. In 1952, she married Quentin Bell, who was to become Professor of History and Theory of Art at both Leeds and Sussex Universities. He was the son of Clive and Vanessa Bell (the artist), central figured in the ‘Bloomsburg Group’, of which Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf, was a participant. After raising three children, Anne worked closely with her husband on the research for his acclaimed 1972 biography of his aunt Virginia Woolf, and thereafter undertook the editing of her complete Diary (5 volumes), for which she was appointed FRLS and given two Honorary Doctorates.

Anne Popham Bell filmed on December 3, 2007. (Photo Courtesy of Agon Arts & Entertainment, LLC.)

Anne Popham Bell filmed on December 3, 2007. (Photo Courtesy of Agon Arts & Entertainment, LLC.)

Anne Popham Bell is a charming woman who, like the other Monuments Men I have interviewed, defers all praise for her work and contribution to the MFAA. She is a distinguished and accomplished member of the arts community. Her love for the arts is so apparent, her desire to preserve history so evident. It has been a great pleasure to get to know Anne and her family and to understand her perspective on World War II and the men and women who made up the “Monuments Men”.

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