Walter J. Huchthausen: A Monuments Man Killed in Action

This is the second in a series of posts about real-life Monuments Men by Dr. Greg Bradsher. See also his post on Sir Charles Leonard Woolley.

The forthcoming movie The Monuments Men has focused great attention on the Monuments Men (and women) and their work during and after World War II.  Of course the movie cannot tell the story of the over 300 individuals involved in Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) work, so it focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchet,t respectively.  Over the course of the next two months, I thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals.  This post focuses on one of the American Monuments Men who was killed in action: Walter J. Huchthausen.

Born in Perry, Oklahoma, on December 19, 1904, Huchthausen attended the University of Minnesota and Harvard University, where he earned a Master of Architecture degree in 1930. He was an instructor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and then director of the Department of Design at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts from 1935 to 1939. He then joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota where he taught until his enlistment in 1942.

Early in August 1944 Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, in charge of MFA&A operations wrote to the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces) G-5 Operations Branch stating that Huchthausen, then serving with 3rd ECA [European Civil Affairs] Regiment, was an architect trained partly in United States and partly in Germany. His German, Webb wrote, was said to be first class and he had had considerable experience in German museums.  Webb wrote that he seemed very qualified for MFA&A duties and requested he be assigned to that duty.  Eventually this request was granted and by the fall Huchthausen would be serving in France as a Monuments Man.

Huchthausen was ordered on December 9, 1944, to report to the Ninth Army for duty as MFA&A Officer.  During most of January 1945, he spent in Aachen helping to recover and protect cultural property, both looted and German-owned.  He was soon assigned Sheldon W. Keck, former Brooklyn Museum of Art conservator, as his assistant.  The two slogged their way into Germany with the Ninth Army during the winter of 1945, crossing the Rhine in the latter part of March and then striking  east around the north of the Ruhr.

On the afternoon of April 2, Huchthausen and Keck were north of Essen and east of Aachen, (north of the Rhur Pocket), caught by German machine gun fire while on their way to answer an urgent call from the XIX Corps G-5 Staff in whose area an important find of art treasures had been made.   Keck escaped unharmed, but Huchthausen was hit in the head by the fire and died.

Huchthausen would be buried at the United States Military Cemetery at Margraten, in the southeastern part of the Netherlands.

 David Finley, with the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (The Roberts Commission), sent a letter of condolence to Huchthausen’s family. In it he wrote:

The American Commission has learned with the deepest regret of the death of your son Captain Walter Huchthausen. Captain Huchthausen was, in the opinion of this Commission, one of the outstanding Monuments Officers in the field, and his work in the Valley of the Loire and at Aachen will remain as a signal contribution to the cultural preservation of Europe. His knowledge of Germany made him uniquely fitted for the work there and his loss is an irreparable one.

On June 6, 2007, both houses of Congress passed resolutions officially acknowledging for the first time the contributions of the Monuments Men.  The following day, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) praised the passage by Unanimous Consent of his resolution (S.Res.223) honoring the efforts and contributions of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program.  “It is in large part due to the tireless efforts of the brave American men and women who served as Monuments Men that over 5 million works of art and other cultural treasures were protected and preserved following the collapse of the Nazi regime,” Sen. Inhofe said.  “I am proud that the Monuments Men have finally been recognized for their invaluable service.” In the course of his statement, Senator Inhofe singled out Walter J. Huchthausen, a fellow Oklahoman.

For more information on Huchthausen’s MFA&A activities see the Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949, General Records, Civil Affairs Division, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, RG 165 and the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.