Robert Edsel's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Rose Valland’

“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




November 5th, 2009 | 11:00 am


I have been asked to write a guest entry for the blog.  Before I began working here, I did not know much about the Monuments Men.  I knew they saved art during WWII, but that was all I knew.  They were a pretty incredible group of people.  From Ettlinger to Valland, there are some great people with some incredible stories.   I wonder what Rose Valland was thinking when she decided to keep notes on these works of art.  Did she know that it would lead to finding them later?  Did she think they were for her own personal records and memories?  I wonder, what was the initial spark that forced her to begin to document what was going on with the art pieces?  Minus the actual combat part, their work must have been fascinating.  I wish I was getting a paycheck to discover the stolen art hidden by the Nazi’s.  Talk about thinking outside the box, wow!

Though there are many different inspirational stories between the Monuments Men, there is one unifying theme.  They all felt the need to serve a purpose greater than themselves.  In today’s society, for the most part, all people care about is themselves and their latest bell or whistle.  I don’t think our society cares how many innocent people we kill on a daily basis, much less saving the cultural treasures in the Middle East.  A childhood buddy of mine was in the first platoon into Saddam’s main house and they did some terrible stuff to that house including the relics and treasures there.  I can only imagine what has happened to other cultural treasures in one of the oldest regions in the world.  If more people knew about The Monuments Men and their mission, we could have a special unit deployed in the Middle East focused on saving the cultural treasures of the region.  Maybe the people in charge of our nation’s foreign policy do not want to save the cultural treasures.  Maybe they do not want to preserve the culture from that region.  No W.M.D.’s and oil isn’t cheap, one has to wonder, what are we doing there?

I’m grateful that someone had the foresight to see the importance of saving the cultural treasures for future generations before they were destroyed.  In the times of World War II, people were more educated and understood the importance in saving cultural treasures for future generations.  Nationwide, our public school systems cut back funding for the arts before any other subjects.  Today, MTV and all the rest of the filth on television, teaches our children that cultural treasures are pieces of jewelry that Paris Hilton wore.  When you see how little importance our nation puts on the arts and culture, it’s not hard to see why this has not become a bigger issue.  It is going to take the masses getting educated, rising up and demanding that we save the cultural treasures in the Middle East before anything will change.  So I’m here doing my small part, helping Mr. Edsel and the Monuments Men Foundation in raising awareness and educating people about The Monuments Men and their mission.



November 2nd, 2009 | 5:11 pm

Yesterday was Rose Valland’s birthday. She was born in the tiny town of Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs, France on November 1, 1898. She had a modest upbringing, and went on to pursue numerous fine arts degrees and eventually got a job at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris as an unpaid volunteer. No one could have guessed that she would be the one to save thousands of works of art stolen from France by the Nazis.


Rose Valland risked her life countless times while working in the “snake pit” of the Jeu de Paume, which had become the headquarters for the ERR, the primary Nazi looting organization during World War II. For four years she kept track of paintings and other treasures stolen from private Jewish collections in France that were brought to the museum before being sent to Germany. She watched as Hermann Göring and Alfred Rosenberg came in and drank champagne while making their selections, then secretly told Jacques Jaujard, director of the French National Museums, all that had transpired. After the war, it was her records that led the Monuments Men directly to the Nazi repositories so that they were able to rescue and restitute the cultural heritage of France.


But despite all this, Rose Valland remains a relatively unknown heroine of World War II. Not just in the United States but in France as well. When she is written about, she is often described as “homely” or “timid” or “unassuming”. While this may be partially true, I believe she was also an incredibly strong woman, who had more courage than most of us can dream of. She was patriotic and brave, and had a “ferocious determination”. And most importantly, she deserves to be remembered and honored for her heroic actions during World War II.  It is my hope that The Monuments Men not only shares her story with a broad audience for the first time, but also helps people understand what a remarkable woman Rose Valland really was.



October 21st, 2009 | 3:54 pm


Courtesy of MSNBC and the Morning Joe" Show

This morning I appeared as a guest on the “Morning Joe” show, hosted by Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski (whose mother was an artist!), and Willie Geist, to discuss my new book, The Monuments Men.  Seated beside me was one of the great historians of our time, and a personal heroine of mine, Doris Kearns Goodwin!  Time passes very quickly on live national television so I had to speak very rapidly….and what a great experience it was!

When I commented that one of the exciting experiences for me in writing The Monuments Men was to provide a character—Rose Valland, the greatest heroine of the war in my opinion—that women can now relate to as a path to develop an interest in World War ll, Doris Kearns Goodwin swung her arms in jubulation and cheered ‘A Woman!’. For all she knows about World War ll and history in general, she commented to me how amazing it was that the story of the Monuments Men was one that was long overdue being told.

One of the most meaningful experiences of researching and writing about living history is having the chance to share it with someone else who knows the process.  When Doris Kearns Goodwin immediately commented to me that writing the story of  these great unknown heroes of World War ll must have been deeply moving for them and their families, it spoke volumes about her years of experience listening to people.

One final comment:  Doris Kearns Goodwin closed the program by saying “It’s just a reminder that Hitler really was the greatest threat to western civilization I think it’s ever experienced, and I mean not only killing all the people, not only all the treasures, but civilization and these symbols of it that would have been gone because of this one person and that terrible ideology.” And that in my view validates just how big the story of The Monuments Men truly is.

I am so appreciative that Joe, Mika and Willie invited me on their show and provided me with this wonderful opportunity to share these heroes’ story.

If you’d like to view the clip, you can visit

1 Comment »