“The Numbers Don’t Add Up” — Lessons to be Learned by Archivists and Researchers

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.

In reviewing some text that we plan on adding to the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property in conjunction with albums containing photographs depicting looted art work, Robin Waldman had a comment after she looked at the following:

[Colonel Robert Storey, an American prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, addressing the court on December 18, 1945, after having introduced 39 albums as a United States Exhibit]

I should like to refer, while Your Honors are looking at these [the albums], just to the aggregate totals of the different paintings. Here are the totals as shown by Document 1015(b)-PS, which is in the document book. As they are totaled, I don’t think Your Honors need to follow the document; you can continue looking at the books [albums] if you like.

[citing an Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) report]

Up to 15 July 1944 the following had been scientifically inventoried:

21,903 Works of Art: 5,281 paintings, pastels, water colors, drawings; 684 miniatures, glass and enamel paintings, illuminated books and manuscripts; 583 sculptures, terra cottas, medallions, and plaques; 2,477 articles of furniture of art historical value; 583 textiles (tapestries, rugs, embroideries, Coptic textiles); 5,825 objects of decorative art (porcelains, bronzes, faience, majolica, ceramics, jewelry, coins, art objects with precious stones); 1,286 East Asiatic art works (bronzes, sculpture, porcelains, paintings, folding screens, weapons); 259 art works of antiquity (sculptures, bronzes, vases, jewelry, bowls, engraved gems, terra cottas).

Storey told the judges that they did not have to look at Document 1015(b)-PS as the numbers were totaled.  Robin Waldman did look closely at the numbers, and contacted me with the comment, “Greg, The numbers don’t add up.”  She was correct.

So, I looked at the published transcript of the tribunal (Volume 4, page 89) and found it contained the same apparently incorrect information.  Then I went to the stacks and looked at the original unpublished transcript. It was the same text.

I then asked my colleague Sylvia Naylor if she wanted to solve, if possible, the inconsistencies between the total number of art works and the sub-totals.  It seemed like something fun to do on a Friday afternoon.  She agreed, always eager to go on archival detective forays to the stacks.

Before we went to the stacks to look at United States prosecution document 1015(b)-PS, I took a  look at Volume 1 of Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, a multi-volume work produced after the Nuremberg trial in 1946 by the staff of the Office of Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality.  I believed the chapter entitled “The Plunder of Art Treasures,” might have some explanation why the numbers did not add up.  Here is what was written:

(4) Works of Art (West). The Robert Scholz report declared that:

‘During the period from March 1941 to July 1944, the Special Staff for Pictorial Art brought into the Reich:

29 large shipments including 137 freight cars with 4,174 cases of art works.’ (1015-PS)

The report stated that a total of 21,903 art objects of all types had been counted and inventoried, and stated:

With this scientific inventory of a material unique in its scope and importance and of a value hitherto unknown to art research, the Special Staff for Pictorial Art has conducted a work important to the entire field of art. This inventory work will form the basis of an all-inclusive scientific catalog in which should be recorded history, scope and scientific and political significance of this historically unique art seizure. (1015-B-PS)

The following is a summary of the inventory attached to the report:

Hand-made art objects………5,825
East Asiatic objects……….1,286

The report stated that the above figures would be increased since seizures in the West were not yet completed and it had not been possible to make a scientific inventory of part of the seized objects because of the lack of exports. (1015-B-PS)

The total was still 21,903, but the number of paintings had increased from 5,281 to 10,890.

So Sylvia and I went to the stacks to look at File 1015(b)-PS.  We reviewed both a translation and a photostat of the original German-language report by Scholz.  They both indicated 5,281 paintings.  Now I know one cannot always trust numbers in government reports, of any country, but if the total was indeed 21,903 the number 10,890 found in the published volume cited above seemed to be the correct number to make the sub-category totals add up.  As long as we were in the stacks we decided to look at the French language version of File 1015(b)-PS, which the French prosecutors had submitted as a French exhibit (RF-1323).  We found that it was the same, except in French, as the document in the United States prosecution files.  So we went back to the folder containing File 1015(b)-PS.  We found File 1015(gg)-PS, which was identified as an undated and unsigned inventory of artworks. The document did not indicate it was an attachment to some other document.  In translation it contained the same sub-category numbers as in the File 1015(b)-PS, but provided the following information, regarding paintings:

Oil Paintings 3,027
Water-colors 766
Drawings 1,332
Engravings 4,525
Miniatures-portraits 442
Miniatures-parchments 51
Persian miniatures 49
Glass paintings 19
Porcelain-enamels-paintings 455
Books and manuscripts 55
Reproductions 13

Total 10,890

So part of the mystery was solved regarding the total number of paintings, a number with the others that would add up to 21,903.  But we could not figure out what combination of numbers above were used to make 5,281 in the actual report.  The only clue was a footnote to Engravings that indicated:  “In enumerating engravings in portfolios, the sheets were counted individually. In bound volumes the engravings were consider as one number.”  I guess it is possible, if one knew the number of portfolios and number of bound volumes, one could make some combination of numbers to come up with 5,281.

Just to make sure I had not missed anything I went back to Volume 1 of Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, to the chapter entitled “The Plunder of Art Treasures.”  I looked at the end of the chapter where relevant documents are listed, along with the volume and page where they are reprinted in translation.  It provided the following information:

1015-GG-PS Inventory of art objects-attached to a report (Document 1015-B-PS), Volume III, p. 670.

I quickly looked at that volume and page number and found the translated document. It was the same as 1015-GG-PS in the stacks in the folder labeled 1015-PS.  I then went back to Volume I of Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression and looked at what was said about the document. There in black and white was “The following is a summary of the inventory attached to the report.”  I probably should have looked at it more closely the first time I looked at it, but I was more focused on the number 10,890.  So, File 1015-GG-PS was an attachment to File 1015-B-PS. That being the case, Robin, the numbers do add up.   It is unfortunate that Colonel Storey before the International Military Tribunal in December 1945 did not reference File 1015-GG-PS, but perhaps in 1945 it was not clear that the inventory was an attachment to the report.  However, in 1946, when Volume 1 of Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression was published the link between the two documents was made.

So what was learned from this exercise?  First, one should not necessarily trust any government-produced numbers, published or otherwise.  Second, there is no substitute for looking at the records, even if to verify published versions of it.  And third, it pays to look carefully at what you are reading.

Click on any image below to enlarge. Document is from RG 238 in the series “United States Evidence Files, 1945-1946” (National Archives identifier 305264)


One thought on ““The Numbers Don’t Add Up” — Lessons to be Learned by Archivists and Researchers

  1. Greg,
    p.3 paragraph 6: “Very many works of art were seized by the staff from the luggage of Jewish emigrants from Holland as well as in the occupied territories of France and Belgium”
    Accordingly, theft took place in the compounds sorting possessions, before extermination, like Kanada, in Auschwitz.

    Do these numbers exist? Thanks,

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