Robert Edsel's Blog

Blog entries for the ‘World War II’ 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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Eight Years Honoring the Heroes!

June 6th, 2015 | 10:57 am

Eight years ago, on the 63rd anniversary of the D-Day landings, I announced the formation of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art.  Four Monuments Men participated in that ceremony.  Today only one of those four is still with us bringing the number of living Monuments Men and women to just six.  We always knew we were in a race against time to gather their stories and honor them.  What I couldn’t know at the time was the degree of success the Foundation would have in achieving its objective to raise worldwide awareness of theses heroes and honor them for their achievements.  One feature film, and two more books, would introduce their legacy to a global audience.  Through the advocacy of the Foundation they would receive honors from two different presidents and the members of Congress.  Soon they will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation’s highest civilian honor.

Bruges Madonna

In front of Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna, June 2015

As I walk the streets of Bruges, Belgium on a day when we remember the enormity of the sacrifice of young men who fought their way onto the bloodied beachheads of Normandy, and the courage of their leaders—in particular General Eisenhower, who made that fateful decision to “GO,” I give thanks also for the handful of Monuments Men and women who selflessly volunteered for military service to help preserve so much of the cultural world we enjoy today.  The world we have inherited is profoundly richer for the great objects of beauty they helped saved, none more so than Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna which I visited this morning.

The Monuments Men Foundation team has accomplished much, but as the daily destruction and theft of cultural treasures in Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen remind us, much remains to be done.  Please join the Monuments Men Foundation and learn how you can help us reestablish the respect for the cultural treasures of others that defined the work of these scholar-soldiers.

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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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