The Monuments Men During February 1945: Locating Repositories of Looted and German Cultural Property
by Guest Blogger on February 27, 2015
Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, archivist at the National Archives in College Park.
At the end of January, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, head of the 12thArmy Group, wrote the G-5s of his four Armies (First, Third, Ninth, and Fifteenth) regarding the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) Specialist Officers and their activities. He noted that as a measure contributing to the eventual restitution of works of art and objects of a scientific or historical importance which may have been looted from United Nations governments or nationals, the MFA&A officers would investigate all information of such nature and inspect all repositories of such works falling within the area of the command to which they were assigned or attached, and report their findings. Of course, in late January, the Monuments Men were not, with the exception of the Aachen area, in a physical position to seek out looted cultural property, nor German cultural treasures that had been evacuated eastward for protection.
But during February 1945, as the Allied forces pushed further east, the MFA&A officers had greater opportunity to seek out information about the location of German and looted cultural treasures. By that time they already knew, based on information from MFA&A officers who entered Germany in the latter part of 1944 and the first months of 1945, that they had many challenges ahead, given the large, and increasing, number of repositories containing loot and German-owned cultural property, which were being identified. Information was being obtained from German museum personnel, from British and American sources in Paris, and from prisoner of war interrogations.
During February Capt. Walter J. Huchthausen, MFA&A officer with the Ninth U.S. Army obtained a German report, dated December 9, 1943, on a meeting of Rheinprovinz officials, October 22, 1943, the purpose of which was to discuss measures pertaining to disposition of art collections. The report provided information on thirty repositories. One was at Ehrenbreitstein Fortress on the mountain of the same name on the east bank of the Rhine opposite the town of Koblenz, where art treasures from Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Koblenz were kept in tunnels and where the building of another tunnel had been authorized for storing more art objects. Another place identified was the salt mine at Kochendorf, near Heilbronn, which purportedly held art objects from many places. In Aachen he found a group of papers that identified 10 repositories, including Kochendorf. He reported that there was much correspondence regarding Kochendorf being an ideal art repository because of its depth (150 meters) and dry conditions. From interrogations of Germans Huchthausen also learned about a repository at Siegen, east of Cologne, in south Westphalia.
Based upon the information that the MFA&A officers and other Allied personnel were obtaining about repositories, SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) on February 11 issued its first listing of German repositories holding loot and German-owned property. The list included a repository at Siegen, which was reported to contain 104 paintings and 48 pieces of sculpture from Aachen and also the Cathedral Treasure from Metz which had been sent there on August 30, 1944. The list also included a storage location somewhere in Bad Wildungen (some 35 miles northeast of Marburg) and the salt mines at Heilbronn and Kochendorf.
While Huchthausen and other MFA&A officers attached to the Armies under the 12th Army Group were trying to pinpoint the location of repositories, Capt. Marvin C. Ross, USMCR, with MFA&A, G-5 Operations Branch, SHAEF, during mid-February visited 12th Army Group and the four armies under it to discuss intelligence on repositories of works of art and to coordinate the information obtained. This information would be incorporated into the next issue of the SHAEF listing of repositories, issued on March 11.
At the end of February, Lt. George Stout, USNR, MFA&A office at the 12th Army Group produced a listing of additional repositories and had it provided to SHAEF. In his listings, Stout noted that the Siegen mine and its vicinity were said to be used as repositories for work of art.
The Siegen copper mine, some 60 miles southeast of Cologne, had first come to the attention of the MFA&A officers in late 1944. Capt. Robert K. Posey, with the Third U. S. Army, had issued a report, dated December 29, 1944, indicating that the Metz Cathedral treasures were at Seigen [Siegen] in Germany. Upon reading this Ross wrote Stout at 12th Army Group that he could not find any trace of a Seigen [Siegen] in his Gazetteer and asked him to check with Posey about his information. Two days later Ross again wrote Stout, indicating that Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, Adviser, MFA&A, G-5 Operations Branch, SHAEF, had straightened him out about the place where the repository was—Siegen—Posey had the letters transposed. It is interesting to note that the Office of Strategic Services reported on January 1 that it was probable that part of the Treasury of Aachen Cathedral had been taken to “Singen in Westphalia, a town not otherwise known.”
It would not be until spring that the MFA&A officers would finally get to Siegen and discover what art works and other cultural property it contained. In the meantime, during February and March, they would continue gathering information about the location of repositories and their contents. Of course, they would continue with their mission of protecting cultural property. As will be noted in future blog postings, two of them would be killed in action trying to save German cultural treasures.