THE MONUMENTS MEN Part 6 The Finale
Moving on to Italy and the Tuscan and Florentine treasures…
In Italy, museum officials had evacuated their holdings to various countryside locations such as the Tuscan villa of Monteguifoni, which housed some of the Florentine collections.
As Allied Forces advanced through Italy, the German army retreated north, stealing paintings and sculptures as they fled. As German forces neared the Austrian border, they were forced to store most of their loot in various hiding places such as a castle at Sand in Taufers and a jail cell in San Leonardo.
Beginning in late March 1945, Allied forces began discovering these hidden repositories in what would become the greatest treasure hunt in history. In Germany alone, US forces found about 1,500 repositories that contained art and cultural objects looted from institutions and individuals across Europe, as well as from German and Austrian museum collections
Some repositories of special note were:
Berchtesgaden, Germany – 1,000 paintings and sculptures stolen by Hermann Goring. The cache had been evacuated from his country estate, Carinhall, and moved in 1945 to protect it from invading Russian troops.
Bernterode, Germany – four coffins containing the remains of Germany’s greatest leaders including Frederick the Great and Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg
Merkers, Germany – General George Patton in April 1945 found
Reichsbank gold, along with 400 paintings and other crates of treasure. More dismal discoveries included gold and personal belongings from Nazi concentration camp victims.
Altaussee, Austria – This extensive complex of salt mines served as a huge repository for stolen art including Vermeer’s The Astronomer and The Art of Painting, and paintings from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples stolen by Hermann Goring.
San Leonardo, Italy – In the jail cell of this very northern town Allied officials discovered paintings from the Uffizi that had been hurriedly unloaded by retreating German troops…paintings by Botticelli, Filippo Lippi and Giovanni Bellini.
This is a very superficial listing, and the scope of the project truly defies imagination.
By July 1945, US forces had established three central collecting points within the US Zone in Germany, and American organizational skills started to take over.
The first director of the collecting points, Captain Walter Farmer, and 35 others who were in charge of the Wiesbaden collection point, were compelled to draw up what has become known as the “Wiesbaden Manifesto” on 7 November 1945 declaring “We wish to state that, from our own knowledge, no historical grievance will rankle so long or be the cause of so much justified bitterness as the removal for any reason of a part of the heritage of any nation even if that heritage may be interpreted as a prize of war.”
Among the co-signers was Lt. Charles Percy Parkhurst of the US Navy.
Regarding the occupation of Japan, as the war neared its end in
Japan in 1945, George Stout and fellow Monuments Man Major Laurence Sickman recommended creating an MFAA division in Japan. Consequently the Arts and Monuments Division …of the Allied Powers in Tokyo was established.
Langdon Warner, archaeologist and curator of Oriental art at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, and early mentor of Laurence Sickman, advised the MFAA Section in Japan until September 1946.
To sum it all up, the American museum establishment led the efforts to create the MFAA section both in Europe and Japan. Included in this group were current museum directors, curators and art historians, as well as those who wanted to be museum directors, curators and art historians.
Upon returning home from service overseas, these men and women led the creation or improvement of some of the leading cultural institutitons in the US. Many major museums employed one or more MFAA officers before or after the war, including the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Many other Monuments Men were professors at esteemed universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, New York University, Williams College and Columbia University, among others. Paul J. Sachs’ famous “Museum Course” at Harvard educated dozens of future museum personnel. S. Lane Faison’s passion for art history was passed on to hundreds of students and future museum leaders at Williams College in the 1960s and 1970s, some of whom are currently directors at major US museums.
Other MFAA personnel became founders, presidents, and members of cultural institutions such as the New York City Ballet, the American Association of Museums, the American Association of Museum Directors, the Archaeological Institute of America, the Society of Architectural Historians, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as respected artists, architects, musicians and archivists.
Two Monuments Men officers were killed in Europe, both near the front lines of the Allied advance into Germany.
They were Captain Walter Huchthausen, an American scholar and architect attached to the US 9th Army, killed in April 1945 by small arms fire somewhere north of Essen and east of Aachen, Germany
And Major Ronald Edmund Balfour, a British scholar attached to the Canadian First Army, killed in March 1945 by an explosion in Cleves, Germany.
May they rest in peace.