Nazi Albums of Looted Art, Found in Attic, Reach U.S. Archives

Bloomberg 1 November 2007
By Laurence Arnold

For decades they sat in the attic of an American home: two fraying albums that document Adolf Hitler's quest for supremacy of the art world.

Inside were black-and-white photographs of paintings by such French artists as Francois Boucher, Hubert Robert and Antoine Watteau. Before World War II, the paintings were owned by French Jews. During the German occupation of France, the Nazis seized the art and sent the albums for Hitler to review for the ``Fuhrer Museum'' he planned in his Austrian hometown, Linz.

Thirty-nine such albums were discovered after the war and used as evidence during the Nuremberg trials. But a U.S. soldier took two others from Hitler's home, the Berghof, in 1945.

Today those albums entered the collection of the National Archives in Washington -- joining the other 39.

``It's fair to say this is one of the most significant finds related to Hitler's premeditated theft of art and cultural treasures since the Nuremberg trials,'' Allen Weinstein, archivist of the U.S., said at a news conference.

The discovery may not solve any mysteries about the whereabouts of looted art, since the roughly 110 paintings chronicled in the two albums are believed to have been returned to their French owners after the war, said Robert M. Edsel, whose foundation purchased the two albums and donated them to the National Archives.

More Albums?

Edsel and National Archives official Michael Kurtz said 40 or more never-discovered albums may also be in existence. They said they hope today's event prompts other Americans, particularly descendants of World War II soldiers, to keep an eye out for war booty that could provide critical information to those pursuing plundered art.

``Rarely does a day pass without news of a major World War II restitution case,'' Edsel said. ``Even with the increased pace of claims, we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg, in my view, as people gradually awaken to the fact that hundreds of thousands of items are still missing, worth billions of dollars.''

Edsel, 50, founded an oil-exploration company in Texas, Gemini Exploration, which he sold in 1995. He moved his family to Europe, immersed himself in the culture of France and Italy and developed a deep interest in how great artworks survived World War II.

His 2006 book, ``Rescuing Da Vinci,'' told the story of the ``Monuments Men,'' the 350 members of U.S. and Allied armed forces who specialized in preserving and liberating artistic and cultural treasures stolen by German troops.

Sold by Family

Edsel created the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art to continue researching the soldiers while helping efforts to identify and recover looted art.

Earlier this year, Edsel said, an intermediary contacted his foundation with word of the discovery of the two albums. After assurances that acquiring the albums would not violate the law, the foundation bought them from the family of the now- deceased soldier who took them.

Edsel wouldn't identify the intermediary organization or the soldier, saying only that he lived in the U.S. Southwest. He also declined to say how much the foundation paid the family.

One album, containing 50 photographs of paintings by Boucher and Robert, is at the National Archives. Edsel said the second album will remain with the foundation for now, available to researchers and scholars, and will be turned over to the National Archives at some point in the future.

The National Archives, the U.S. government's official keeper of records, has accumulated an estimated 15 million pages of records, culled from 30 federal agencies, pertaining to gold and artwork looted by the Nazis during World War II.

A guide to its records is online at: - aid/index.html
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