Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.
During the past several weeks there has been international interest in the revelations about some 1,400 works of art, some allegedly acquired from looted Jewish collections, found in a Munich, Germany apartment. Most, if not all, of the works found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment had previously been in the possession of his father, Hildebrand, and some of them had been in possession of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point before being returned to Hildebrand Gurllit.
Many of the relevant records held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) relating to Holocaust-Era Assets, including those relating to Hildebrand Gurlitt and to relevant art works in the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, are accessible at www.fold3.com.
As time permitted during the past several weeks I have searched in various series that had not been digitized looking for additional records relating to Gurlitt. I was unsuccessful. However, on Friday, November 22, after talking to a reporter and then going back and looking at the Restitution Research Records of the Munich Central Collecting Point on www.fold3.com, I realized that a file had been created by the War Crimes Office of the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Third Army, with the designation 3JA187, that might contain relevant records. My colleague, Sylvia Naylor, was eager to go on one of my Friday afternoon adventures looking for something new. We could not find the file. Later in the afternoon, however, I found in the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, Record Group 331) Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives records in file AMG 295, a semi-monthly report on MFA&A activities of the U.S. Third Army for the period ending April 30, 1945, in which Captain Robert K. Posey reported that Karl Haberstock and Hildebrand Gurlitt had been located and would be questioned.
On Monday morning, November 25, I thought we should take a look at two boxes of the staff of the Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality (within the National Archives Collection of World War II War Crimes Records, Record Group 238) that might contain information on Gurlitt and/or file 3JA187.
I had walked by these two boxes, then simply labeled “Art Treasures,” for years and would periodically take a look in them and would always come away with the opinion that there were unique documents, including photographs, relating to World War II-era art looting, of whose existence researchers were generally unaware. So this past summer, after Dr. Naylor had described the record series from which the two boxes came, we thought about digitizing the records, with the intention of getting the scanned documents linked to “Reference Documents Received from American and Foreign Sources, 1945 – 1947” (National Archives Identifier 6106845) and to the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property that is hosted by NARA. But we never seemed to find the time to start that digitizing project.
As I opened one folder, labeled 3JA187, simultaneously Sylvia saw in another folder an index to a report that indicated information about Gurlitt was contained in Exhibit No. 17 to the report. We pulled the appropriate box and began the scanning process.
The report, captioned “Report of Information of Alleged War Crimes,” was prepared by the Office of the Commanding General of the U.S. Third Army and sent to the Deputy Theater Judge Advocate, War Crimes Branch, on September 4, 1945. The report begins:
The location of various art depots of the Germans in the Third Army territory prompted the investigation by this headquarters of the seizure of art treasures by the Germans during their occupation of France, Poland, Belgium and Holland, as a war crime in violation of Articles 46 and 56, Annex to Hague Convention No. IV of 18 October 1907.
The report includes sworn statements by Robert Scholz; Bruno Lohse; Gisela Limberger; Gusta Rochlitz; Karl Kress; Guenther Schiedlausky; Karl Haberstock; Ernst Buchner; Walter Fleischer; Adolf Weinmuller, Hermann Voss; and Hildebrand Gurlitt. Appendices to the report contain a collection of documents; summary of facts of evidence in the report; an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) report on the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) and five OSS interrogation reports; an ERR roster; an alphabetical list of names of persons in the ERR with summary of acts as to each; a list of agencies investigating art looting; a listing of art dealers and others involved in confiscated art; and other similar documentation. Appendix XIV to the report provides a listing of witnesses interrogated and their present locations and a list of reports on wanted individuals.
Sylvia and I did a page-by-page comparison of the report on Gurlitt that is available in the Restitution Research Records of the Munich Central Collecting Point. What we found was an English language version that matched up with what is online, with the minor exceptions of dates and locations next to signatures. There was also the original German language version, signed in ink by Gurlitt at the bottom of the pages. We were surprised to see in the original German language version of the section listing Gurlitt’s acquisitions some handwritten additions made by Gurlitt that were apparently not included in either of the English language versions of the report (that in the file and that online). There was no reason given for the omission. When we finished I reminded Sylvia that once again it always pays to look at an original version of a document, because one might be surprised by what is found. In this instance, what we found was new, and it will be up to researchers to determine the importance.
Below are the two pages from the report: Report of Information of Alleged War Crimes,” prepared by the Office of the Commanding General of the U.S. Third Army and sent to the Deputy Theater Judge Advocate, War Crimes Branch, on September 4, 1945, Reference Documents Received from American and Foreign Sources, 1945 – 1947, National Archives Collection of World War II War Crimes Records, Record Group 238. [Double-click on either image to enlarge.]