Today’s post is written by Chris Naylor, Director of Textual Records for Research Services, Washington DC.
The Nazis and their collaborators engaged in widespread and systematic confiscation of art and cultural property between 1933 and 1945 through various means including theft, coercion, and forced sales. These activities resulted in the displacement of millions of items of cultural property. During and after the war, the Allies undertook major efforts to identify and restitute the property to its rightful owners. In recent years, the international community has recognized the critical need to ensure access to relevant archival materials dispersed across institutions throughout the world in order to facilitate provenance and claims research to ensure looted art and cultural property is identified and returned to the rightful owners.
On May 5, 2011, the National Archives launched the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property, which is a collaboration of national and other archival institutions with records that pertain to Nazi-Era cultural property. These archival institutions, along with expert national and international organizations, are working together to extend public access to the widely-dispersed records through this single internet portal that links researchers directly to the digitized records and online finding aids of the 18 participating institutions. The Portal enables families to research their losses; provenance researchers to locate important documentation; and historians to study newly accessible materials on the history of this period. This collaborative project was established to fulfill the objectives of the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, the 2000 Vilnius Forum Declaration and the 2009 Terezin Declaration, particularly to make all such records publicly accessible.
The Portal links researchers to archival materials consisting of descriptions of records and, in many cases, digital images of the records that relate to cultural property that was stolen, looted, seized, forcibly sold, or otherwise lost during the Nazi era. These records, which are in many different languages, include Nazi documentation, governmental records from 1933 onwards, inventories of recovered artworks, post-war claims records and auction house and art dealer records. Cultural property documented in these records ranges from artworks to books and libraries, religious objects, antiquities, archival documents, carvings, silver and more.
The records that are available on the Portal from the U.S. National Archives (NARA) document the activities of several U.S. Government agencies involved in the identification and recovery of looted assets, including the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and U.S. occupation forces in Germany and Austria. The materials also contain captured German records regarding the seizure of cultural property, such as the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) albums, card file, and related photographs. The records have been described in NARA’s online catalog. Many of the records have additionally been digitized and made available for free online by our partner Fold3.com (Holocaust Era Assets records). Records that have not yet been digitized are available for research at the National Archives at College Park, MD.
These records were created or received by the U.S. Government during and after World War II as part of its investigations into cultural assets that were looted or otherwise lost during the war. Many of the records available through the Portal highlight the work of the U.S. Army Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (MFA&A), commonly known as the “Monuments Men.” In total, the records of the U.S. National Archives that can be found through the Portal include over 2.3 million pages of documents, and they are available for your research today.