Robert Edsel's Blog

Blog entries for the ‘World War II’ Category

Good morning! Buongiorno! Guten Morgen! Bonjour!

January 14th, 2015 | 10:16 am

Good morning! Buongiorno! Guten Morgen! Bonjour!

I am proud to share with you that our Monuments Men Foundation website is finally available in four languages: English, Italian, German and French.


I hope that this will allow more people around the world to understand the heroic work of the Monuments Men during and after World War II as well as to embrace and support the mission of the Monuments Men Foundation. For the time being, some pages still remain available only in English, but I am confident that with time and with your generous support, we will be able to complete also those translations.


I would like to extend my special gratitude to François-Xavier Bernard  for volunteering his time to complete the French translation. Passionate of World War I and history in general (@ww1photographs), Francois-Xavier gave us his expert, generous and enthusiastic support and we are extremely grateful for it. We welcome your help and support at any time!




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Support the restoration of the Canonica di Belforte!

November 13th, 2014 | 2:18 pm

Dear Friends,

Help me support the restoration of the Canonica di Belforte in Italy! We have only until the end of November to show our support. The Canonica di Belforte is in urgent need of restoration.

If you’ve read my last book Saving Italy then you will remember the “Flying Priest” Don Guido Anelli. The Canonica di Belforte is the building in which Don Anelli used to meet and supervise the other partisan fighters, those brave Italian patriots who risked and lost their lives during the dark days of 1943-1945.

Don Guido Anelli, far right, shortly before Christmas 1944. (Sergio Giliotti Collection)

“What are we without our history? Preservation of the Canonica di Belforte presents us with an opportunity to not only restore an important building of the Middle Ages, one that still possesses its original roof of stones, but preserve the meeting place of partisan fighters and their leader, Don Guido Anelli, who played a critical role in contributing to the defeat of German forces in Italy during World War II.  This important building gave birth—and was a place of refuge—for those brave Italian patriots who risked and lost their lives during the dark days of 1943-1945.  Its preservation will serve as a reminder for us all that freedom is not free.”

Please, show your support to our friends of Circolo Belforte and vote for the restoration of the Canonica di Belforte. Your vote will give the Canonica a chance to win a restoration project sponsored by FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano (the Italian National Trust).

Just click HERE and vote away!

Unfortunately the wesbite is only in Italian, so here are some easy steps to guide you through your vote:

-       Click on the green button on the right, where it says “VOTA” with a thumb up
-       This will take you to a registration page and you can choose whether to log in through your Facebook account (easy) or to create a new account
-       To create a new account, click on the orange button on the left and enter your information as requested (Name, Lastname, Postal Code, Email address, Username, Password and Retype Password). Make you sure you also select the box confirming that you’ve read terms&conditions.
-       Click the green button that reads “REGISTRATI” and that’s it!

-       A confirmation email will be sent to your inbox. Make sure you click on the orange button “CONVALIDA IL VOTO”  wihtin the email body to confirm your registration and then log on back to the website and vote!
-       Enter your newly created username and password by clicking on the green button in the top right corner of the website that reads “ACCEDI”

The small town of Belforte in Parma (Italy) and I thank you for your important support!

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“Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum”

July 21st, 2014 | 8:00 am

Rose Valland is one of the greatest and yet unknown heroines of World War II. After risking her life spying on the Nazis, day after day for four long years, Rose lived to fulfill her destiny: locating and returning tens of thousands of works of art stolen by the Nazis during their occupation of France. Yet her remarkable story, like much of her personal life, has remained unknown to the broad public… until now.

“This book, written by French Senator Corinne Bouchoux, was originally published in France in 2006. Ms. Bouchoux’s interest goes far beyond the wartime service of Rose Valland by delving into her personal life and post-war work to provide important insights about this fascinating and determined woman. Her research also proved helpful in confirming my understanding of the intense relationship between Rose Valland and the man who shared her wartime destiny, Monuments officer Lt. James Rorimer. The absence of books about Rose Valland in the English language has, until now, left us wondering how this ordinary woman mustered such courage to do extraordinary things even when, after the war, many in her own country simply wanted the story of Nazi looting to fade away and with it, Rose Valland’s contribution to history. It has therefore been an honor to translate and publish Corinne Bouchoux’s book and make it available to a much larger audience. – adapted from the book’s forward written by Robert M. Edsel, author of The Monuments Men

The complete biography of this amazing woman can be found in Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum. Click here to purchase!

Captain Rose Valland

The unassuming heroine of French culture during World War II, Rose Valland was an employee of the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris who secretly recorded the movements of art and objects stolen by the Nazis in France.

Valland earned two fine arts degrees from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, and also studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She received art history degrees from both the Ecole du Louvre and the Sorbonne University in Paris. Despite her extensive education, she began work at the Jeu de Paume as an unpaid volunteer, with the title “chargé de mission.” Valland eventually became assistant of the museum and began receiving a salary in 1941.

In October 1940, during the Occupation of Paris, the Nazis took over the Jeu de Paume museum and began using it as the headquarters for the ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg). There they stored paintings and other works of art stolen from private French collections, mostly those of Jewish collectors. Jacques Jaujard, Director of the Musées Nationaux, immediately instructed Valland to remain at work at the museum and spy on the Germans. It was initially agreed that she and a few assistants would be allowed to work in the Jeu de Paume to maintain Louvre records, but the Nazis soon reneged and instead allowed only Valland to remain. She therefore became one of the few French witnesses to the Nazi looting machine.

Valland kept a low profile at the building, due to her simple and quiet demeanor, and because the Nazis did not realize that she spoke German. Under the pretense of her duties maintaining the building, Valland was in reality tracking the shipments of ERR loot dispatched from Paris to locations throughout the Reich. In addition to intelligence she gathered on her own, Valland obtained information from loyal drivers, guards, and packers – passing precious knowledge on to Jaujard and the French Résistance. Hers was a dangerous and even life-threatening job, and she kept her knowledge closely guarded.

After the Allied invasion of France in June 1944, Valland finally confided the details of Nazi looting to Monuments Man James Rorimer in December of that year, who could do little to act on the information until Allied Forces established military strongholds in Germany. One of the greatest discoveries of ERR loot was at the castle of Neuschwanstein, where Valland’s documentation proved to be very helpful to Monuments officers by showing exactly what artworks belonged to whom, thus expediting the restitution process tremendously.

The French Commission de Récupération Artistique (Commission on Art Recovery) was formed in 1944, with Valland and Jaujard as prominent members. Well after the war’s end, Valland worked to locate and return artworks. She described her experiences in the book, Le Front de L’Art, which also inspired the 1964 film, The Train, starring Burt Lancaster. She received the Legion of Honor, the Medal of the Résistance, and was made Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government for her heroic efforts. The United States awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in1948, and she received the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany as well. Valland was one of the most decorated women in France, but it wasn’t until 1953, after twenty years of service to the French museums, that she was finally awarded the title of “curator.”

Valland’s accomplishments were virtually unrecognized in France during her lifetime, and she died in 1980 in relative anonymity. She is buried in her home village of Saint-Etienne-de-Saint-Geoirs where the Association de la Mémoire de Rose Valland has been founded to honor her life and work.

For more information on Rose Valland, visit



A D-Day View from Monuments Man James Rorimer

June 6th, 2014 | 11:08 am

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

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The Field Report: Week of July 4, 2014

January 14th, 2014 | 9:00 am

1.) We found the Raphael! On a mint coin that it is. The new series from the Mint of Poland called “Missing Works of Art” deals with famous paintings and other art works that went missing during World War II. (

2.) British Library returns painted Renaissance book panel (The Art Newspaper)

3.) This exhibition currently at the UNESCO office in The Hague shows the intense impact of armed conflict on societies and their cultural heritage (UNESCO)

4.) Roll out!  Trajan’s Column as you’ve never seen it before (Italy Magazine)

5.) The Legal Evolution and the Private Market: How countries are successfully using the law to get looted cultural treasures back (ABA Journal)

6.) Candid, raw and moving: What it means to be an American to these people. (The New York Times)

*…and in case you missed it:

The real Monuments Man: Amazing story of the Jewish teenager who fled Nazi Germany but returned six years later as one of the art-hunters made famous by George Clooney film (Daily Mail)

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The Field Report: Week of June 20, 2014

January 13th, 2014 | 7:00 pm

Here are few topics that prompted discussion in the office this past week:

1.) Infrared imagery shows Picasso’s The Blue Room hides a secret painting (The Guardian)

2.) The ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh are on the long list of things being affected by the terror group ISIS (Liberty Voice)

3.) Happy Birthday Mona Lisa! You don’t look a day over 500. (The Huffington Post)

4.) An 89-year-old retiree and former Nazi guard has been arrested for what he says was an ‘involuntary’ post at Auschwitz (New York Times)

5.) Eccentric heiress Huguette Clark’s untouched treasures head for the auction block (NPR)

6.) The Baptistery of San Giovanni may show up on this week’s “Best Dressed List” thanks to world-renowned designer Emilio Pucci (Luxury Daily)

*…and a few things you may have missed:

7.) Take a look at the paintings behind one of the most iconic Monuments Men photographs, which can also be seen on the cover of Robert M. Edsel’s The Monuments Men.

8.) This great photo of the Monuments Men in action! LIFE’s William Vandivert in the spring 1945, shows American soldiers loading recovered paintings and sculptures — reportedly stolen by Hermann Goering himself — into the back of a truck, in hopes that they might be returned to their rightful owners. (TIME)

9.) The Italian Club of Dallas, Texas will host a presentation on the Monuments Men next Monday, June 23, 2014. Special guests include the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art‘s Director of Development Ashley Bennett Jones and Senior Researcher Elizabeth Hudson. Event details can be seen here and tickets may be purchased here.

View last week’s Field Report here!


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The Met Meeting

December 20th, 2013 | 12:01 am

“Now, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the worst attack ever on U.S. soil, the tension had turned into an almost desperate need to act. An air raid on a major American city seemed likely; an invasion by Japan or Germany, or even both, not out of the question. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Japanese galleries were closed for fear of attacks by angry mobs. At the Walters Gallery in Baltimore, small gold and jeweled items were removed from the display cases so as not to tempt firemen with axes who might enter for an emergency. In New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was closing at dusk for fear of visitors running into things or stealing pictures in a blackout. Every night, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was moving paintings to a sandbagged area, then rehanging them in the morning. The Frick Collection was blacking its windows and skylights so that enemy bombers couldn’t spot it in the middle of Manhattan.” – The Monuments Men

On December 20-21, 1941, museum leaders from across the country met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to discuss plans to protect their collections.

At the meeting, Paul Sachs issued a resolution, stating:

“If, in time of peace, our museums and art galleries are important to the community, in time of war they are doubly valuable. For then, when the petty and the trivial fall way and we are face to face with final and lasting values, we… must summon to our defense all our intellectual and spiritual resources. We must guard jealously all we have inherited from a long past, all we are capable of creating in a trying present, and all we are determined to preserve in a foreseeable future. Art is the imperishable and dynamic expression of these aims. It is, and always has been, the visible evidence of the activity of free minds.”

In hindsight, we know that a further attack on American soil never occurred. However, this meeting had lasting effects: it served as the birthplace of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section. After the Met meeting, Monuments Man George Stout and Harvard Professor Paul Sachs continued to reach out to museum leaders to develop a plan of action for when the Allies would inevitably arrive in Europe, for it had become obvious that it was the cultural treasures of Europe, not America, that would need protection. The Monuments Men were the embodiment the eloquent words Sachs spoke in December 1941.

To learn more about this historic event, read The Monuments Men.  __________________________________________________________________________

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70th Anniversary of the Near Destruction of ‘The Last Supper’

August 15th, 2013 | 10:12 am

Earlier this summer I sat down with my friend Nick Mueller, President and CEO of the National WWII Museum, and discussed measures taken to preserve works of art in Italy during the war, including the precautions that ultimately saved ‘The Last Supper’ in Milan from destruction during the August 15/16, 1943 raid.

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70th Anniversary of the near destruction of ‘The Last Supper’

August 15th, 2013 | 9:43 am

 Today marks the 70th Anniversary of the August 15-16, 1943 raid on Milan which nearly destroyed Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece ‘The Last Supper’.  I describe this remarkable event in great detail in my new book Saving Italy; you can read an excerpt here:

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Helmutt Ruhemann and the Monuments Men

July 16th, 2013 | 4:01 pm

(photo from the Helmutt Ruhemann Archives at the Hamilton Kerr Institute)

Morwenna Blewett, a British art restorer, has been researching the numerous Jewish restorers who fled Nazi Germany and settled in London. There is an interesting article about her search on, here. One such restorer was Helmutt Ruhemann, considered a leader in his field at the time. In the 1930s, Ruhemann corresponded often with Monuments Man George Stout. While researching The Monuments Men, we came across their correspondence in Stout’s papers at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

While their letters in the early 1930s often focused on conservation efforts, in time Ruhemann began sharing the hardships of working under the Nazis. In July 1933 he wrote Stout saying, “In the museum nothing has changed up to now, but I think it is only a matter of days.” Later that year, Ruhemann and his family escaped to England. By 1938, the situation in Germany had vastly deteriorated. He told Stout, “Details are only now beginning to get known. A 67 year old uncle of mine has been in the concentration camp for a fortnight. We are not trying to get him over here…A number of friends got a note – after days of anguish – from the concentration camp, that the ashes of their relatives could be fetched for a fee of – I believe – 3 or 5 marks. A 70 year old aunt of friends of ours has been stabbed to death in her flat, etc. etc…we are trying to get our last friends out of that hell.” (Dec 4, 1938 letter to Stout, Stout Papers, Smithsonian AAA.)

Through his correspondence with Ruhemann and others. Stout was well aware of the situation in Europe – not only in Nazi Germany, but across the continent where every museum had taken precautions to protect their collections from the coming war. After America entered the war following Pearl Harbor, Stout led the way for the Monuments Men. You can learn more about his efforts in The Monuments Men.


You can learn more about Ruhemann on the National Portrait Gallery’s website.

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