Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) launched this month a new section of its portion of the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property that is devoted to the photographic albums containing photographs of cultural property looted by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) during World War II. The section contains information about the ERR, the albums recovered and presented as an exhibit at the International Military Tribunal, and the albums subsequently recovered by the Monuments Men Foundation and donated to NARA. There are also links to the digitized individual items within the albums. There is additionally a short video that shows the albums being introduced as trial exhibits and the American prosecutor discussing them and the Nazi looting activities.
The ERR was a primary German organization, headed by Alfred Rosenberg, charged with seizing Jewish and other cultural properties in occupied countries during World War II. During the latter part of the war the ERR deposited much of its looted cultural property and its records in various locations in Germany and Austria. Most of these items were recovered by the United States Army during April and May 1945. The bulk of the items were recovered at Alt Aussee in Austria and at Neuschwanstein/Fussen in Bavaria. Among the items recovered at both locations, as well as at Berchtesgaden, were photographic albums depicting cultural works the ERR had seized. One particular collection of leather-bound albums was recovered at the castle at Neuschwanstein and transported to the United States Army-operated Munich Central Collecting Point to be used by the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives (MFA&A) staff (the Monuments Men) in identifying and restituting looted cultural property. During the summer, various other collections of photographic albums created by the ERR were also transferred to the Munich Central Collecting Point.
During the summer of 1945, members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) interrogated various ERR members about their activities and records. The ALIU ascertained that the recovered 39-album collection was part of nearly 100-album set that the ERR had prepared for Adolf Hitler to view in order to show him the extent of the ERR’s work.
The 39 photographic albums containing photographs of cultural property looted by ERR were subsequently submitted as an United States exhibit at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. They were accessioned by the National Archives during 1947. Four more albums of a similar nature, taken as souvenirs by United States military personnel, were brought back to the United States after the war. Three of these albums were acquired the Monuments Men Foundation and donated to the National Archives and Records Administration by its Director, Robert M. Edsel, one in November 2007 and two in March 2012. A fourth album is scheduled to be donated to the National Archives in June 2014. The 42 albums currently in NARA’s custody have been digitized and can be viewed online through on NARA’s website.