Robert Edsel's Blog

Blog entries for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Happy Birthday to Monuments Man Rouben Sami!

August 15th, 2015 | 5:45 am

Today, I’d like to wish a happy 94th birthday to Monuments Man Rouben Sami!

I was privileged to meet with Rouben and his wife Lee at their home in Florida just this past year, the 21st? Monuments Man I’ve met and interviewed during my many years of research. His recollections about the work he did as Deputy Director of the Offenbach Archival Depot (OAD) brought back a flood of memories for me about another Monuments officer I interviewed and came to love—Colonel Seymour Pomrenze.  In fact, it was Col. Pomrenze who recruited Rouben to assist with the daunting work being done at the OAD.

It was clear that Rouben loves to laugh. He joked about being one of the few workers at the Depot who had the use of a Jeep, saying, “All the officers were my good friends because they had no vehicles!” He also mentioned that, because he knew so many foreign languages, officers would shout, “Where’s Rueben? Get Rueben! He can talk to us!”

The five-floor Depot was home to approximately 2.5 million books and manuscripts, which the Nazis looted from more than sixty libraries across Europe and Russia. As Deputy Director between May and August 1946, Rouben was responsible for the successful return of hundreds of thousands of these documents and volumes to the their respective homelands.

Though they spoke many different languages and came from different walks of life, Rouben and his colleagues at the OAD shared common ground in their commitment to return every single object to its rightful owner.

Rouben hailed from New York City, but he was in fact raised in Palestine.  Not surprisingly, the return of Hebrew books and rare manuscripts stolen from synagogues and individuals carried with it special significance for him. He later said, “I loved the job because I was helping my own people.”

Thank you, Rouben Sami, for your devoted service as a Monuments Man. I join with thousands of others to wish you a happy birthday filled with many more years of wonderful memories.

Rouben’s wife, Lee, and I look on as Rouben Sami signs a copy of Rescuing Da Vinci. Each one of the Monuments Men and women I’ve interviewed has signed this book making it the most rare and treasured document among hundreds in the collection of the Monuments Men Foundation.

 

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Monuments Man Lennox Tierney passes away at age 101

June 18th, 2015 | 12:05 pm

Monuments Man Lennox Tierney has died, age 101. Only five Monuments officers are still living.  Of the twenty Monuments Men and women I have interviewed, only Tierney and Sherman Lee had served in the Pacific Theater, primarily in Japan. Fluent in Japanese, and a greater scholar of Asian art, Tierney was assigned to General MacArthur’s occupation headquarters as Commissioner of Arts and Monuments following the end of the war. In this role, he advised General MacArthur on all topics regarding arts, monuments, and culture, in particular the restoration of damaged cultural sites. He also photographed cultural sites, compiled reports, and served as translator to General MacArthur and his staff as needed. Tierney often worked independently at Occupation Headquarters liasing directly with other Monuments Men including Langdon Warner, Laurence Sickman, and of course Sherman Lee. He served in this position until 1952, but remained in Japan thereafter to continue his study of Japanese arts.

Lennox had a very long and distinguished career as a teacher sharing his lifelong knowledge and love of Japan and its cultural history with others.  When we met last year in Salt Lake City, Lennox—at 101 years of age—was in the late stage planning for another trip to Japan accompanying another of the many groups interested in learning more about this fascinating culture.  I marveled at his energy, drive, and enthusiasm.

Robert Edsel presents Lennox Tierney with an American flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol

 

With the passing of Lennox Tierney the world loses another remarkable member of the “Greatest Generation,” whose sense of shared sacrifice helped build the world we enjoy today.  Japan’s cultural heritage is richer because of Lennox Tierney; so too is the United States for introducing so many Americans to that country’s great treasures.  He will be missed!

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National Archives and Monuments Men Foundation Announces Discovery of Hitler Albums Documenting Looted Art

March 27th, 2012 | 3:29 pm

Monuments Men Foundation Founder and President Robert Edsel and Archivist of the United States David Ferriero unveil the donation of two “Hitler Albums” to the National Archives at the Meadow Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX

To Learn More about this amazing discovery, please visit us at www.monumentsmenfoundation.org.

PRESS RELEASE

Today at a ceremony in Dallas, David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist and Robert M. Edsel, President of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art and author of The Monuments Men, announced the discovery of two original leather bound albums containing photographs of paintings and furniture looted by the Nazis. The Monuments Men Foundation will donate these albums, both of which have been in private hands since the end of World War II, to the National Archives.

These albums, created by the staff of a special task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, document the unprecedented and systematic looting of Europe by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The ERR was the main Nazi agency engaged in the theft of cultural treasures in Nazi-occupied countries.

The Archivist hailed this discovery as “one of the most significant finds related to Hitler and the Nazi’s premeditated theft of art and other cultural treasures to be found since the Monuments Men Foundation’s previous discovery of Albums 6 and 8. It is exciting to know that original documents are shedding light on this important aspect of World War II. Documents such as these may play a role in helping to solve some of those mysteries and, more importantly, helping victims recover their treasures. The National Archives is grateful to Mr. Edsel and the Monuments Men Foundation for today’s donation of Albums 7 and 15, which will allow scholars and historians immediate use of these materials.”

“The Foundation often receives calls from veterans and their heirs, who don’t know the importance of items they may have picked up during their service, or aren’t aware that anyone is looking for the items,” Foundation President Robert M. Edsel stated. “These albums are just the tip of the iceberg for hundreds of thousands of cultural items still missing since World War II. The role of the Monuments Men in preserving cultural treasures during conflict was without precedent. We honor their legacy by completing their mission.”

In the closing days of World War II, U.S. soldiers entered Adolf Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps. Many picked up trinkets as souvenirs as proof that they had been inside. Cpl. Albert Lorenzetti and Private First Class Yerke Zane Larson each took one leather bound album. Neither man knew the significance of the albums, other than being a memento of their war service. Heirs to both men contacted the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, a not-for-profit organization that received the 2007 National Humanities Medal, after reading media stories about the Foundation’s work involving the restitution of other valuable World War II documents.

Yerke Zane Larson proudly served in the 501st Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, “the Screaming Eagles.” His daughter Sandra Runde stated: “If my father was still living, I know he would be pleased to serve as an example for other veterans and their families of the importance of returning cultural treasures, just as the Monuments Men set the standard for protection of culture during armed conflict.” In the final days of the World War II, Larson picked up Album 15 as a souvenir while in Hitler’s home, known as the Berghof.

Cpl. Albert Lorenzetti, who served in the 989th Field Artillery Battalion, removed Album 7 from the Berghof the same week as Larson as proof he’d been in Hitler’s home. His niece, Jane Gonzalez, commented: “My uncle was from a generation that grew up making sacrifices and putting others before themselves,” said Ms. Gonzalez. “I believe that donating this album to the National Archives and thereby assuring its preservation and availability to the public honors his legacy and is a testament to his personal character and patriotism.”

As the ERR staff looted, photographed and catalogued the French collections, they created leather bound albums, including the two being donated today. Each page of the album contained a photograph of one stolen item. A letter representing the family from which the item was stolen and an inventory number is noted beneath each image; for example in Album 7, “R2951” would be the 2951st object stolen from the Rothschild family. The albums were specifically intended for Hitler in an effort to keep him apprised of the ERR’s progress in France. According to noted historian Dr. Birgit Schwarz, once Hitler received the first set of albums on his birthday in April 1943, he issued a directive that incorporated the confiscated items into “Special Commission Linz.” This organization oversaw building the collection for the Führermuseum, an unrealized museum complex Hitler planned to build in his hometown of Linz, Austria, as well as distribution of art to regional museums throughout the Reich. As the director, Hitler decided which items would be placed in certain museums.

ERR Albums 7 and 15 are significant discoveries. Album 7 includes images of sixty-nine paintings which represented very early thefts, some as early as 1940 and early inventory numbers such as EW4 (the fourth item stolen from Elizabeth Wildenstein). Images of two important paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard are featured in Album 7. Girl with Two Doves, or Mädchen mit zwei Taube,n (inventory code: R38) sold at auction in 2000 for over $5 million after having been properly repatriated by the Monuments Men in 1946. Album 7 also includesThe Dance Outdoors, or Tanz im Freien, (inventory code: R67) attributed to the painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, which was intended for Hitler’s Führermuseum. Although the majority of the paintings featured in Album 7 appear to have been properly restituted after the war, four paintings are listed on the ERR Database as not having been restituted. Album 15 contains photos of forty-one pieces of furniture, primarily from the Rothschild family. Three of those pieces, inventory codes R917, R943, and R944, were prominently featured in one of the exhibits staged at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris for Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring to select items for his own collection.

In May 1945, thirty-nine original ERR albums were discovered at Neuschwanstein by the Monuments Men. They had been stored there by the Germans along with records that documented their confiscations and thousands of looted items. These albums were subsequently taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point where they were used by the Monuments Men to assist in the restitution process. In late 1945 these albums were used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations.

Today the National Archives has custody of the original thirty-nine albums, as well as two additional albums, 6 and 8, discovered by the Monuments Men Foundation and donated to the National Archives in 2007. Like Album 7, Albums 6 and 8 were picked up by a member of the 989th Field Artillery Battalion who was stationed in the Berchtesgaden area in the closing days of the war. Mr. Edsel stated about this occurrence: “I hope discoveries such as these will encourage other members of the 989th Battalion and their families, as well as all veterans, to look in their attics and basements for any lost wartime items as they may hold the clues to unravel this unsolved mystery.”

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ANOTHER HERO HAS DEPARTED: ROBERT A. KOCH (1919-2011)

December 5th, 2011 | 4:45 pm

Monuments officer, Lt. Robert A. Koch, died on November 11 after a lengthy illness.  Koch served with the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946. While working with the MFAA, he was stationed at the Office of Military Government for Wurtenberg-Baden in Germany. Koch signed the Wiesbaden Manifesto, a document outlining the MFAA opposition of the removal of German-owned artworks from the Wiesbaden Collecting Point to the United States.

Koch became a prominent Northern Renaissance scholar earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of North Carolina in 1940 and 1942, respectively. Following his military service, he attended Princeton University for continued graduate studies. In 1948, he received a Master’s of Fine Arts and began working on his Ph.D., which he received in 1954. Koch’s teaching career began at Princeton in the fall of 1948 in the Department of Art and Archaeology.  He was named full professor in 1966. In 1950, he accepted the additional position of assistant director at the Princeton Art Museum. Koch also became Curator of Prints and Drawings in 1961. In 1990, Koch retired from the university and was named professor emeritus.

Among his many honors, Koch was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant in 1956 to study art history in Belgium, and later received a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies in 1961. He was a member of the College Art Association, serving as its director from1961 to 1963. He is also the author of several books, including Joachim Patinir (1968) and Hans Baldung Grien; Eve, the Serpent and Death (1974).

With the passing of Mr. Koch, there are now just seven living Monuments officers.

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Honor Our Veterans!

November 11th, 2011 | 2:12 pm

Veterans and Monuments Men Bernard Taper, Harry Ettlinger and Horace Apgar and President of the Monuments Men Foundation Robert Edsel (second from right) at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

During World War II, while tens of thousands of Allied troops were flooding the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, the Monuments Men were impatiently waiting to cross the English Channel for their chance to contribute. For Monuments Man James Rorimer, future director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the gravity of the situation gripped him that day as he wrote in a letter we found while researching my last book:

“We are told that the invasion of Western Europe by overwhelming forces is underway…Now I am thinking of the combat troops and the task which is theirs. We older men are anxious on the one hand to help deal the death blow to tyranny, and on the other we think of our families at home and the obligations which we have as husbands, fathers, sons, and members of the peace-time community.”

-James Rorimer Letter to his Family, June 6, 1944

Over the last few months, I have been conducting research for my next book, Saving Italy, which will also rely on the letters the Monuments Men wrote to their families. One of the first things that occurred to me while reading these letters, was the extent to which the thoughts and feelings conveyed reflect their age and maturity. The Monuments Men had an average age of 40; a few had even fought in World War I. For the most part, these heroes were not the fearless young men who went to war before their adult lives had really begun. In contrast, these men had accomplished careers, they had wives and children, they had learned lessons from life’s experiences, and they had everything to lose. Reading their letters always reminds me about their commitment to saving the cultural world and its great artistic treasures we all cherish, and the courage of their convictions in volunteering to serve.

So today, I would like to thank the Monuments Men for their service, and all of the Veterans and service men and women of our country. Their cumulative sacrifices enable us to live the lives we lead. It is a silent sacrifice, one without complaint, as these brave soldiers “just do their job” out of duty and honor to our nation. We can’t say thank you enough to these remarkable men and women. We celebrate your bravery today and every day.

Click Here to Watch a Video about The Veterans Story

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Monuments Men Newsletter – Bust of Isabella D’Este at the Kimbell Art Museum

October 26th, 2011 | 11:45 am

The Bust of Isabella d'Este in the saltmine of Altaussee, Austria in May 1945.

The latest edition of the Monuments Men Newsletter was published. The 24th edition includes the inside story of the Monuments Men Foundation’s role with the Kimbell Museum restitution the Bust of Isabella D’Este, what Robert Edsel has been doing this summer, the fitting tribute to the recently departed Colonel Seymour J. Pomrenze,  and the rescheduling of the “In the Footsteps of the Monuments Men” European Tour. Please click on the link to read the newsletter and forward to all your family and friends.

Just in case you may not know, we are on Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/RobertEdsel) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Robert-Edsel/130960233032)

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WATCH ROBERT EDSEL ON THE 33 NEWS TONIGHT

May 13th, 2011 | 1:29 pm

Watch  Walt Maciborski’s special report about Robert Edsel talk about the Monuments Men and the greatest untold story of World War II on The 33 News at 9pm CST. Robert will also talk about his continued search for displaced cultural items from World War II. Click the link to watch the trailer and for local listing.

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MONUMENTS MEN NEWSLETTER – EISENHOWER AUDIO RECORDING DISCOVERED

April 27th, 2011 | 11:25 am

General Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, departing the Met.
(photo courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries.)

The Monuments Men Foundation is proud to announce the discovery of an audio recording of General Eisenhower speaking about the importance of art and its protection during war.

The speech was delivered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on April 2, 1946 at an event in which General Eisenhower was presented with an Honorary Life Fellowship from the museum with a citation that read:

“To Dwight D. Eisenhower, soldier, diplomat and statesman, through whose irreplaceable art treasures were saved for future generations.”

Award recipients with Texas Governor Rick Perry, including Bill Paxton,
Bob Schieffer, Barbara Smith Conrad and ZZ Top.

Other articles in this newsletter: the announcement of a new book coming out in Spring of 2013, Remembering Maria Altmann, and Robert Edsel presented with Texas Medal of Arts.

Click On the Link to Read The Monuments Men Newsletter

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LET’S TRAVEL!

February 18th, 2011 | 2:42 pm

Please listen in tomorrow to Travel with Rick Steves for a revealing interview with Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger and me about a unique, one of a kind trip we have designed in conjunction with The National World War II Museum.  This September we will be taking a small group, limited to just 35 people, on a unique experience: In The Footsteps of the Monuments Men.

I will be leading this 10 day trip during which we will visit the key locations in which the Monuments Men worked including some of the most dramatic moments of their wartime duty:  discovery of Nazi treasure troves at the Castle of Neuschwanstein and in the Alt Aussee salt mine. We will also visit the site of Hitler’s home in Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest where many of the albums of photographs of works of art stolen by the Nazis were located.

Founder and President of the Monuments Men Foundation Robert M. Edsel and Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger

This is our third appearance on Travel with Rick Steves, Rick and his outstanding producer, Tim Tattan do a great job with these programs. They were very excited about this show in particular because of the news of our trip and Harry’s participation.  For more details on the trip please click on this link: http://www.nationalww2museum.org/travel/2011-monuments-men-tour.pdf

The National World War II Museum is the leading tour provider of trips to key World War II sites and has years of experience organizing such trips all the result of its co-founder and leading World War II historian, Stephen Ambrose.  We are so very excited to be working with their team of experts and historians in making this an experience everyone will forever cherish. http://www.nationalww2museum.org/

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“TRAVEL WITH RICK STEVES” RADIO SHOW TALKING ABOUT THE “MONUMENTS MEN”

February 18th, 2011 | 9:57 am

Robert Edsel is talking about the “Monuments Men” on “Travel With Rick Steves” radio program this weekend. He is chatting with an original “Monuments Men”, Harry Ettlinger,  a German-born Jew whose family escaped to America and now helps repatriate the treasures of Europe from caves and castles where plunder was stashed.

To find out what station airs “Travel with Rick Steves”, click the link http://www.ricksteves.com/radio/whereitairs.htm.

If you missed the broadcast of this episode, you can still listen to the program through Rick Steves’ Program Archive: http://www.ricksteves.com/radio/archive.htm. The program will be available on February 20th.

About the Program

“Travel with Rick Steves” is a fun, hour-long, practical talk show with guest experts and questions from travelers. This weekly program is a lively conversation between travelers and the experts as we learn to

If you want to learn more about “Travel With Rick Steves” radio program, click here: http://www.ricksteves.com/radio/radio_menu.htm.

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