Fraud, Theft & Restitution
Marion Maneker0March 27, 2012

New Volumes Recording Hitler’s Looted Art Surface

The National Archives announced the discovery and donation of two additional volumes of the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, document the unprecedented and systematic looting of Europe by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The ERR was the main Nazi agency engaged in the theft of cultural treasures in Nazi-occupied countries. As the ERR staff looted, photographed and catalogued the French collections, they created leather bound albums, including the two being donated today. Each page of the album contained a photograph of one stolen item.”

ERR Albums 7 and 15 are significant discoveries. Album 7 includes images of sixty-nine paintings which represented very early thefts, some as early as 1940 and early inventory numbers such as EW4 (the fourth item stolen from Elizabeth Wildenstein). Images of two important paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard are featured in Album 7. Girl with Two Doves, or Mädchen mit zwei Tauben (inventory code: R38) sold at auction in 2000 for over $5 million after having been properly repatriated by the Monuments Men in 1946. Album 7 also includes The Dance Outdoors, or Tanz im Freien, (inventory code: R67) attributed to the painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, which was intended for Hitler’s Führermuseum.

Although the majority of the paintings featured in Album 7 appear to have been properly restituted after the war, four paintings are listed on the ERR Database as not having been restituted. Album 15 contains photos of forty-one pieces of furniture, primarily from the Rothschild family. Three of those pieces, inventory codes R917, R943, and R944, were prominently featured in one of the exhibits staged at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris for Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring to select items for his own collection.

In May 1945, thirty-nine original ERR albums were discovered at Neuschwanstein by the Monuments Men. They had been stored there by the Germans along with records that documented their confiscations and thousands of looted items. These albums were subsequently taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point where they were used by the Monuments Men to assist in the restitution process. In late 1945 these albums were used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations.

Today the National Archives has custody of the original 39 albums, as well as two additional albums, 6 and 8, discovered by the Monuments Men Foundation and donated to the National Archives in 2007. Like Album 7, Albums 6 and 8 were picked up by a member of the 989th Field Artillery Battalion who was stationed in the Berchtesgaden area in the closing days of the war. Mr. Edsel stated about this occurrence: “I hope discoveries such as these will encourage other members of the 989th Battalion and their families, as well as all veterans, to look in their attics and basements for any lost wartime items as they may hold the clues to unravel this unsolved mystery.”

National Archives Announces Discovery of “Hitler Albums” Documenting Looted Art (National Archives)