Robert Edsel's Blog

Blog entries for the ‘Media’ Category

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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“HIS ENTIRE LIFE WAS DEDICATED TO PUBLIC SERVICE”: SENATOR TED STEVENS (1923 – 2010)

August 11th, 2010 | 5:17 pm

Ted Stevens, who served as a United States Senator representing Alaska for more than 40 years, was killed in a plane crash yesterday. He was the longest serving Republican senator in history. This was, however, only his most recent service to a nation he loved which included senior positions in the Eisenhower Administration, a key role in work that led to the establishment of the United States Olympic Committee, and numerous positions representing Alaska in various oil and gas and conservation issues.

But we remember this remarkable American for his service to the United States during World War ll as a member of the “Greatest Generation”. After being rejected for service in the Navy for failing the vision exam, he overcame the problem through a course of prescribed eye exercises. A top student in the Army Air Force program, Stevens subsequently received his wings in 1944 and served in the China-Burma-India theater where he piloted transport planes. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross among other citations for his heroic service. Senator Lisa Murkowski stated yesterday: “His entire life was dedicated to public service—from his days as a pilot in World War ll to his four decades of service in the United States Senate. He truly was the greatest of the “Greatest Generation”.

Over the years Senator Stevens was a steadfast supporter of The National World War ll Museum in New Orleans. In late spring 2007, as our work to garner support of key senators and members of the House of Representatives was at a critical phase, Senator Stevens emphatically endorsed our efforts. A copy of his letter to me follows.

The Monuments Men Foundation mourns the loss of this public servant and veteran of the greatest war in history. We extend our condolences to his family and friends.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ANNE POPHAM BELL!

June 20th, 2010 | 12:00 pm

At Winfield House, residence of the Ambassador of the United States to the United Kingdom, with Anne Olivier Bell and Ambassador Robert H. Tuttle. Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.

Today is British Monuments Woman Anne Olivier Popham Bell’s 94th Birthday. Anne is the only living female member of the Monuments section that we have located.  In December 2007, I had the honor of presenting Anne with a flag of the United States which was flown over the United States Capitol in her honor, as well as a gold leaf copy of the Congressional resolution that was passed on June 6, 2007 in recognition of the heroic efforts of the Monuments Men. U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Robert H. Tuttle and his wife were also in attendance, as well as Anne’s family. It was truly a moving and memorable day. You may read more about Anne in her biography below.

Anne Popham Bell. Photo Coutesy of Anne Popham Bell.

MFAA Officer Anne Popham Bell. Photo Courtesy of Anne Popham Bell.

Anne Olivier Popham Bell (b. 1916)

Civilian Officer Grade 2, British Element, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA)

Anne Olivier Popham was well prepared for work with the MFAA.  From 1934 to 1937, she studied art history at the Courtauld Institute which, combined with her family’s background in art, made her an ideal candidate.  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, whose collection was transferred for safety to Wales in advance of the German Blitzkrieg on London.  Popham’s ‘war work’ began in 1941 when she joined the Ministry of Information as a research assistant in the Photographs and Publications Divisions.  Popham’s focus centered around the production of informative booklets on the British war effort published by His Majesty’s Stationary Office.  In 1945 she was transferred to the MFAA Branch of the Control Commission for Germany, and in October was stationed at Bünde in Westphalia, the Divisional Headquarters where she coordinated the Branch officers’ work.  Popham’s diaries detail her daily activities during this time and are preserved at 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 engaged in the preparation of major exhibitions in London and the provinces, and edited their authoritative catalogues.  In 1952 she married Quentin Bell, who later became 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 figures in the ‘Bloomsbury Group’, of which Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf, was a participant.  After raising three children, Popham worked with her husband on research for his 1972 biography of his aunt, Virginia Woolf, and thereafter undertook the editing of Woolf’s complete Diary (five volumes) for which Popham was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and given two Honorary Doctorates.

Anne Olivier Bell currently lives in Sussex close to Charleston, the Bell family home.  The Charleston Trust, of which she is senior Trustee, has overseen the restoration of the historic house, which is now open to the public.  She is the only known surviving British member of the MFAA, and is still actively associated with the Bloomsbury Group.

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DIEGO EDSEL MEETS METALLICA’S DRUMMER LARS ULRICH

June 18th, 2010 | 2:47 pm

Metallica's Drummer Lars Ulrich and Diego Edsel. Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel.

I’m outside Zurich with my son Diego getting ready to head to the stage to see his idols – Metallica – perform. The rain has stopped, skies cleared, and Diego has just met Lars before we all head over to the performing area for what I know will be an incredible evening. And yes, to all my friends who keep asking me, I gave Lars, James, Robert and Kirk an inscribed copy of The Monuments Men!”

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THOUGHTS OF A MONUMENTS MAN ON THE 66th ANNIVESARY OF D-DAY

June 7th, 2010 | 5:29 pm

Lt. James Rorimer (kneeling, at left) and Louvre curator Germain Bazin pose in front of Goya’s painting Time, which had been successfully protected during the war at the Château de Sourches in France. Photo Courtesy of NARA.

While tens of thousands of Allied troops were flooding the beaches of Normandy on D-Day (June 6, 1944), the Monuments Men were impatiently waiting to cross the English Channel for their chance to contribute. For Monuments Man James Rorimer, and future director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the gravity of the situation gripped him that day:

“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

While conducting research for my books (The Monuments Men and Rescuing Da Vinci) and reading the hundreds of letters the Monuments Men wrote to their families, one of the first things that struck me was the extent to which the thoughts and feelings conveyed in these letters reflected 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. Rereading 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.

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Princeton Alumni Weekly – When Art Historians Went to War

June 3rd, 2010 | 2:41 pm

 

When art historians went to war

Alumni were key in efforts to save Europe’s art treasures

By W. Barksdale Maynard ’88
Published in the June 2, 2010, issue

"Monuments Men” examine relics of the Holy Roman regalia upon their return to Vienna in 1946. Lt. Ernest DeWald *14 *16 is at far right, and Lt. Perry Cott ’29 *37 is third from left. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.

Late in World War II, the Allies prepared for their bloody ­invasion of Fortress Europe. Many observers expected to see heartrending destruction of art and architectural treasures as bombs rained from the sky and soldiers ransacked and looted. Culture had suffered grievously in countless wars of the past; why should this, the most horrific conflict in all human history, be any different?  

But it was different: The Allies took remarkable measures to protect threatened art. “Shortly we will be fighting our way across the continent of Europe in battles designed to preserve our civilization,” Gen. Dwight Eisenhower told his commanders just before D-Day in a historic message signaling an enlightened new attitude. “Inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve” — and so he ordered his commanders to safeguard those treasures as their armies swept violently forward. It was a first in military history.  

Key to this noble effort were art historians serving in the ranks of the American, British, and Canadian forces, including more than a dozen young Princetonians. As described in a new book by Robert Edsel, a former Texas oilman who recently set up the Monuments Men Foundation to honor their memory, and co-author Bret Witter, these soldiers volunteered for the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Service (MFAA). They tagged along with the advancing troops, warning them of art landmarks to avoid and performing emergency restorations as needed to paintings, sculpture, and architecture. After the Third Reich collapsed, MFAA officers undertook the daunting task of finding lost art, which the enemy had scattered for safekeeping across more than a thousand secret locations in Germany alone — including deep underground in salt mines. Assembling this jumbled material at “collecting points,” they began the tedious process of repatriating 5 million objects, a herculean task that took until 1951 to complete.  

Monuments Man Sgt. Kenneth C. Lindsay and the bust of Queen Nefertiti, now housed at the Neues Museum in Berlin. Photo courtesy of the Kenneth C. Lindsay Collection.

Edsel calls their efforts “a completely overlooked part of history,” so little public attention have they received. But 60 years later, the records MFAA kept are still used regularly by museum professionals like Nancy Yeide of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., who researches the ownership history of paintings — their “provenance.” The contribution of MFAA was, she says, “absolutely inestimable. It should be a source of pride to Americans. Especially when you consider there were a lot of things the U.S. military had on its plate, like feeding and clothing Europe.”  

It seems especially admirable when compared to the actions of the Soviet Union, which dispatched a Trophy Commission in 1945 to steal 2.5 million art objects in reparation against Germany, including the famous gold artifacts excavated by Schliemann at Troy (which didn’t surface again until the 1990s). Berlin’s Museum Island was systematically ransacked. Russia still refuses to return many of these looted items. By contrast, the 350 or so members of MFAA were selfless and disinterested in their efforts to return art to its proper owners, including those in the former Reich — even though the U.S. government didn’t always follow MFAA’s lead.

Princetonians figured prominently in MFAA. The Univer­sity’s Department of Art and Archaeology was nearly 60 years old when the war began and was rivaled only by Harvard’s as the finest in the nation. Many professionals had trained in McCormick Hall and the Art Museum, including the innovative director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Alfred Barr ’22. He became the first American to warn of the threat to art by Nazi “sons-of-bitches,” as he called them after witnessing a Stuttgart rally in 1933 — the Nazis routinely burned paintings they considered “degenerate” and looted Europe’s treasures for their personal aggrandizement. Hitler, a frustrated artist himself, planned a megalomaniacal museum for Linz, Austria. In assembling his trove, the Führer competed against Washington’s National Gallery of Art (opened in 1941) and other world museums — but he had persuasive powers of acquisition they lacked. At his death he owned an astonishing 8,000 paintings, double the number the National Gallery has been able to amass over the past 70 years.  

When the war ended, MFAA established a collecting point in bomb-cratered Wiesbaden, Germany, in a building that had served as a state museum before the war and later housed Luftwaffe headquarters. Conditions were grim in the building, where every window was shattered and doors had been blown off their hinges. A ring of U.S. Army tanks kept looters away. As crates arrived daily in trucks, Capt. Patrick “Joe” Kelleher *47 and fellow officers were staggered to find that they contained some of the greatest masterpieces in art history, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. For Kelleher, it was like returning to the McCormick Hall classroom where he had studied these very works as a master’s-degree student just before enlisting.

Nestled in one box was a glittering treasure: St. Stephen’s Crown, a talisman held sacred by the Hungarian people for 700 years. Kelleher seized the opportunity to study the seldom-seen crown up close, and later he wrote his Princeton dissertation on it. The U.S. government refused to send the crown back to Communist Hungary, so it languished at Fort Knox until being repatriated in 1978 — after Kelleher, by then retired as director of the Princeton University Art Museum, had been invited to examine it one more time.  

Boyish and high-spirited, Kelleher liked to needle Capt. Walter Farmer, the brusque and jumpy director of the Wiesbaden collecting point. At Christmas 1945, Farmer went out of town, leaving strict orders that no more crates should be opened — the German museum curators had packed the artworks carefully before hiding them in the salt mines, and Farmer wanted them to remain undamaged. But Kelleher invited fellow art lovers for a bibulous dinner party and, with great fanfare, pried open a lid to extract the most famous of all Egyptian sculptures, the bust of Nefertiti. Delighted to find her unbroken, they raised their glasses to a woman whose beauty was undimmed after 3,300 years.  

When Farmer found out, he fulminated about this “outrageous act of disobedience by a fellow officer.” He knew that the ravishing Nefertiti was dogged by controversy already: She had been whisked to Berlin within months of her discovery by archaeologists in 1912, and now the Egyptian government was clamoring for her return. Nefertiti remains a sore point even today: Over strident objections from Cairo, the bust has just become the centerpiece of Berlin’s Neues Museum, gutted by bombs during World War II and not reopened until last year.  

Given MFAA’s mission to return all artwork to its rightful owners, Farmer was incensed when top generals ordered him to pack up 202 of the very best paintings for shipment to the National Gallery of Art for safekeeping, including 15 Rembrandts. Would they ever be returned to the German museums that formerly housed them? he wondered. Kelleher and other MFAA officers grimly assembled “The 202” for shipment, but not before 32 of them signed the “Wiesbaden Manifesto” on Farmer’s desk Nov. 7, 1945. This letter of complaint to the military higher-ups warned that the German people would see this as “a prize of war” confiscation: No other act “will rankle so long, or be the cause of so much justified bitterness.”  

Author of the Wiesbaden Manifesto was feisty Capt. Everett “Bill” Lesley *37, later an art history professor at Old Dominion University. A seasoned MFAA veteran, he had followed the advancing armies after the Normandy invasion and reported on the condition of art-rich places along the way: Chartres was mercifully intact, he found, but La Gleize Cathedral in Belgium had been pulverized. Other Princeton signers of the manifesto included Kelleher, Lt. Charles Parkhurst *41, and 1st Lt. Robert Koch *54, the last familiar to many alumni from his long career teaching art history at Princeton. “We believed first of all that the language was the same the Nazis had used when they looted, which was ‘protective custody,’” Parkhurst later said in explaining why he signed the manifesto. “We thought that was a bad omen.”

Art historians in the United States were unhappy about “The 202” confiscation as well. Truman’s secretary of state received a stern letter from Rensselaer Lee ’20 *26 on behalf of the College Art Association, a professional organization representing artists and academics. Lee had advised President Franklin Roosevelt on cultural treasures in the theater of war and later became an esteemed professor at Princeton. But despite all objections, “The 202” were delivered to America as ordered, where nearly a million visitors saw them on display at the National Gallery in the first “blockbuster” show in history, military police sternly standing guard. Lee and others were gratified when all the paintings finally were returned to Germany in 1948, a positive outcome that the Wiesbaden Manifesto perhaps helped ensure.

MFAA officers at the Munich collecting point, including Lt. Craig Hugh Smyth ’38 *56, second from left, and Lt. Charles Parkhurst *41, second from right. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gallery Archives.

Among the young curators at the National Gallery of Art was serious-minded Craig Hugh Smyth ’38 *56, who supervised the wartime removal of that museum’s contents to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. As a naval lieutenant, he went on to establish an MFAA collecting point in Munich just a month after the city fell to the Allies, housing it in former Nazi administration buildings still draped in green fishnet camouflage. (Nearby museums had been destroyed by bombing.) Smyth held conferences in the room where hapless Neville Chamberlain had signed the Munich Accord that promised “peace for our time.” He found framed portraits of Hitler heaped in the basement, along with booby-trap explosives that blew one workman to bits.  

Trucks constantly rumbled across the courtyard, bringing art found deep in Austrian salt mines. Smyth was joyous at the arrival of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and Jan van Eyck’s “Ghent Altarpiece,” among thousands of works the Nazis had intended to destroy to prevent their capture by the Allies at war’s end — but time suddenly ran out. Not every shipment was greeted with delight, however. One day a box arrived filled with gold teeth and children’s orthodontic braces, discovered at Dachau.

Recent years have brought heightened interest in the problem of looted art from the Holocaust era. Major museums, including Princeton’s, have reinvestigated their collections to be certain they do not contain stolen works. To assist in this global effort, the National Gallery’s Yeide has assembled a catalog of the collection of top Nazi Hermann Goering. His nefarious trove included 2,000 paintings, Yeide has proven — not 1,300 as previously thought. She could not have completed her work without the diligent records of Smyth and his Munich collecting point. “They did a fantastic job, a monumental job,” she says, “especially if you think about the situation they were dealing with” amid the devastation of a bombed-out city. Smyth’s distinguished career was only beginning: In later years he served as director of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.  

MFAA in Italy was headed by another Tiger, Lt. Col. Ernest DeWald *14 *16. Genteel and effortlessly polylingual, he had attended Rutgers before coming to Princeton for his Ph.D. After service in World War I he considered a career as a singer, but Dean Andrew Fleming West 1874 convinced him to enter academia instead, so he joined the Department of Art and Archaeology in 1925. Starting in 1943, he worked with MFAA in North Africa, identifying what ought to be preserved in the coming invasion of Italy. Then he moved north with the conquering armies through Sicily and the Italian mainland, overseeing emergency repairs to damaged buildings and finding museum art hidden in the countryside. Ready with expert assistance was his Princeton departmental colleague Charles Rufus Morey, founder of the Princeton-based Index of Christian Art (now the world’s largest archive of medieval art), who was serving as a cultural attaché in Rome.  

DeWald’s pocket diary, little-noticed today in Firestone Library, records the excitement and danger of these tumultuous times. Air-raid sirens howled as he reconnoitered medieval towns for endangered art. DeWald often came upon Army engineering units bulldozing fallen buildings out of roadways, using the debris to patch holes in blown-up bridges — until he frantically waved them to stop, pointing out fragments of historic sculpture, fresco, and manuscripts mingled with the rubble. “It’s amazing what Italian experts can piece together from what appears to be just a pile of smashed rock,” he told PAW in a wartime letter.  

DeWald decried needless Allied bombing, including an attack on the ruins of Pompeii. But American transgressions paled beside the destructiveness of the Wehrmacht, he repeatedly said. He was horrified by their dynamiting of venerable campanile towers and thousands of bridges, all across Italy. As curators watched helplessly, they had poured benzene and sulfur on the historic state archives of Naples and lit a match. He blamed them too for the burning of the huge Roman ships recently excavated from the bed of Lake Nemi, south of Rome. Of these priceless nautical remains that Mussolini had drained the lake in order to salvage, nothing was left now but heaps of blackened nails. The Germans also had wreaked havoc on the elegant Palazzo Ruspoli nearby, where, DeWald told his diary, “every stick of furniture remaining was hacked to pieces and the pictures slashed to ribbons.”

DeWald was proud of his record in tracking down lost art, including Titian’s “Danae” and Pieter Bruegel’s “Blind Leading the Blind,” both filched from storage at Monte Cassino abbey (later pounded to dust by American bombs) as gifts for Goering and eventually found in the bowels of the Austrian salt mines. To forestall looting and vandalism by Allied troops, DeWald wrote the Soldier’s Guide to Rome, which fresh-faced GIs carried through the Forum as they gawked at historic ruins. Subsequently, he was transferred to Austria, where he helped sort out Hitler’s artwork, working with yet another Princeton-trained expert — S. Lane Faison *32 of the OSS Art Looting Investigation Unit. Later a legendary professor at Williams, the pistol-carrying Faison interrogated shady dealers who had rounded up art for the Führer. Some swallowed cyanide rather than be questioned by this mild-mannered academic.

Back at his desk in McCormick Hall, DeWald wrote the introduction for the 1946 book Lost Treasures of Europe, a photographic catalog of the continent-wide destruction wrought by six years of pillaging and bombs. “The loss or destruction of these prized heritages of the past becomes in fact a personal loss comparable to that of a friend,” he said mournfully. Appointed as director of the Princeton University Art Museum in 1947, he bought an ancient sculpture of a goat’s head — “Princeton Billy,” the students called it — that turned out, ironically, to have been snitched from a collection in Rome during the war. DeWald promptly returned it, though Italy soon gave it to Princeton as a gesture of friendship.  

After his service with the Monuments Men, Patrick “Joe” Kelleher *47 served as director of the Princeton University Art Museum from 1960 to 1972. Photo courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum; Naomi Savage, American, 1927–2005; “Patrick J. Kelleher” 1975; Gift of Naomi Savage; © 1975, Naomi Savage; Photo: Bruce M. White

After his service with the Monuments Men, Patrick “Joe” Kelleher *47 served as director of the Princeton University Art Museum from 1960 to 1972.

In 1950, the Austrian government honored his personal contributions to MFAA in their country by briefly exhibiting Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting” at the Art Museum.   Perhaps the greatest of the 34 works surviving by that legendary Dutch artist, it had been purchased by Hitler himself with proceeds from Mein Kampf. Rescued by American troops from the salt mines at Altaussee, Austria, it ultimately was repatriated to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna — not to the aristocrat who had sold it to Hitler, Jaromir Czernin, who complained bitterly. Today, Czernin’s descendants are demanding to have the painting back, saying that he only parted with it under threat. The Austrian government hopes to avoid giving up its beloved Vermeer, which may now be worth a quarter-billion dollars. It is still smarting from the loss of five Gustav Klimt paintings in 2006: Stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family and displayed in a Vienna museum for decades, they finally were repatriated by court order to a California woman after lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg ’88 successfully pleaded her case.

Many MFAA men — Princetonians and others — later became museum directors, including Charles Parkhurst, who headed the Baltimore Museum of Art. Joe Kelleher replaced DeWald as director of the Princeton Art Museum (his esteemed predecessor later dropped dead from a heart attack in Palmer Stadium parking lot at the 1968 Columbia game). Working with Barr and other experts, Kelleher selected the artists for the Putnam Collection of modernist sculpture scattered across campus and wrote the guidebook Living With Modern Sculpture.  

Today, the World War II generation is fast exiting the scene, with nearly 6,000 U.S. veterans dying every week. The loss of Faison and Smyth in 2006 and Parkhurst in 2008 leaves just one living Princeton MFAA man, Robert Koch, now 90 and unable to be interviewed because of failing health. Many Tigers fondly recall Koch’s courses on Northern Renaissance art, which he taught for 42 years. Koch grew up in academe as the son of drama professor Frederick Koch of the University of North Carolina, whose Carolina Playmakers pioneered the American “folk play” and whose star student was Thomas Wolfe. The younger Koch earned a master’s degree at the University of North Carolina before enlisting in 1942. Years later in conversations with undergraduates, he sometimes mentioned, in his modest Southern way, his MFAA service and how those unspeakable Nazis had intended to blow up the salt mines, incinerating the “Ghent Altarpiece” and so much else.

But now, two decades after he retired, his stories largely have been forgotten. Current Princeton faculty recall almost nothing about his wartime service — “I didn’t really know Bob Koch and certainly never heard him mention that subject,” says one professor who passed him in the hall daily for several years. “He talked a lot about retrieving stuff from the salt mines outside Salzburg, I think,” a former student says with the vagueness typical of all who were asked. “That’s disheartening, but it doesn’t surprise me,” says Robert Edsel of the Monuments Men Foundation. He has interviewed the few remaining veterans of MFAA — just nine of the 350 survive — and he travels the country giving talks about their unsung achievements, which the soldiers were usually too humble to brag about themselves.   “Sometimes their own families didn’t know what they had done,” says Yeide.  

The general amnesia about Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives seems unfortunate, especially among art historians, whose livelihood comes from studying and interpreting the works their predecessors bravely rescued (two Monuments Men were killed in combat). We all owe them a great debt, Edsel believes — “for saving these great cultural treasures that people now travel the world to go see” and then for coming home and helping America go from “cultural backwater to cultural epicenter” in the 1950s. That trajectory continues today, when the students of MFAA men occupy key positions in scores of museums and universities nationwide. In 1945, amid widespread destruction and horror, a few khaki-clad lovers of art lit a small flame of humanity amid the ashes by helping to safeguard great masterpieces. That’s a proud legacy well worth recalling. 

W. Barksdale Maynard ’88 wrote his senior thesis under MFAA veteran Robert Koch *54 and subsequently taught art history at Delaware, Johns Hopkins, and Princeton.

http://paw.princeton.edu/issues/2010/06/02/pages/3664/index.xml?page=1

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MISSION ACCOMPLISHED IN BERLIN

May 19th, 2010 | 5:42 pm

View of the Brandenburg Gate and Pariser Platz. Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.

Seven months ago I promised an aging Army veteran I would see to it that his service to our nation was honored while helping put to its proper use a seemingly insignificant object he had taken during the war as a souvenir.  Yesterday, with the return ceremony at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, that promise was kept, and mission accomplished. Museum officials, alongside representatives of the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States, expressed their deepest gratitude for the return of the Gemäldegalerie Linz XIII Album after believing it was destroyed 65 years ago. They assured me, repeatedly, that the discovery of this Album would allow them to return to the rightful owners still missing works of art stolen during the war.

Mr. John Pistone and Robert M. Edsel, Founder and President, Monuments Men Foundation. Photo Courtesy of Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art.

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 22: (L-R) Deputy Secretary of State for Resources Jacob Lew, Baden-Wuerttemberg Minister of the Interior Heribert Rech, Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art founder Robert Edsel, German Ambassador to the United States Klaus Scharioth and American World War II veteran John Pistone. Photo Courtesy of Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

This is a heartwarming story for the American, Mr. John Pistone, who entrusted the Monuments Men Foundation – and me – with an object of emotional significance no words can convey. In the time we possessed it, the Gemäldegalerie Linz XIII Album was seen at the United States State Department by Germany’s Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Klaus Scharioth, and Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew and other invited guests; more than 90,000 people at the special exhibit we organized with the assistance of our friends at the National World War II Museum in their magnificent museum; and most recently at a special two day exhibit at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of “V-E Day”.

Robert M. Edsel standing in front a statue of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Edsel Collection.

And now, after the many peregrinations of its travels, it is home where it belongs at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, where people of good will can continue their dedicated work to make something good happen out of the horrible events of the past. In the process, we honor the work of the Monuments Men 65 years ago in not only returning millions of stolen items to their rightful owners, but establishing a legacy concerning the protection of cultural items of all nations that will serve us well in the future.

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ANOTHER SUCCESS FOR THE MONUMENTS MEN FOUNDATION

May 14th, 2010 | 11:15 am

Since its founding almost 3 years ago the Monuments Men Foundation has been working to encourage museums and collectors alike to comply with best practices guidelines. Simply stated, that means “know your collection” and where the objects were during the reign of the Nazis:  1933-1946.  Many museums, and some collectors, have embraced these guidelines. Some have been slow to catch up. A few continue to ignore the matter.

Belo’s Dallas station, WFAA, an ABC affiliate, broadcast a piece last evening highlighting a recent case we discovered several years ago at SMU’s Meadows Museum in conjunction with research on my first book, Rescuing Da Vinci.  Officials at the Meadows are now aggressively engaged conducting key provenance research on their collection as a whole and the two paintings covered by the story in particular, to their credit.

This case highlights one aspect of the work of the Foundation and the tangible results we continue to obtain while trying to work with important institutions like the Meadows Museum.

You can view the story by clicking on the following link:

http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/Art-Stolen-by-Hitler-Found-at-SMU-Meadows-Museum.html

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Monuments Men Newsletter for May 2010, 21st Edition

May 12th, 2010 | 11:38 am

This month’s Monuments Men Newsletter focuses on the efforts of Dwight D. Eisenhower regarding his victory in Europe and protecting cultural property. We also highlight the role of Germany in this last chapter of World War II. Please click on the link to read the newsletter.

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