Monuments Man Thomas Carr Howe, Jr. and the Evacuation and Restitution of European Cultural Treasures

Today’s post, written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, is the next installment in an ongoing series of posts on real-life Monuments Men.

The 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 Blanchett respectively.  Beginning in December 2013, Dr. Greg Bradsher and Dr. Sylvia Naylor thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals, and thus started a series of blog posts. This blog post on Thomas Carr Howe, Jr. is the sixteenth in this series.

Thomas Carr Howe, Jr., in 1945 while serving as a Lieutenant with the U.S. Navy, was selected to serve as a Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) officer in the European Theater of Operations (ETO).  He had been recommended for such duty by Paul J. Sachs, a member of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas and professor of fine arts at Harvard University.   Howe, born in Kokomo, Indiana on July 23, 1904, was raised in Indianapolis.  He studied at Harvard University where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art history, in 1926 and 1929 respectively. While at Harvard he took Sachs’ Museum Work and Museum Problems course.  Howe would travel widely and was fluent in French and German and knew some Italian.  Howe served as the assistant director of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco from 1931-1939, before becoming director in 1939.  He was also the art commissioner for the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940) for which he organized an exhibition showcasing Mexican muralists.

In April arrangements were made in ETO to have Howe and naval officer Craig Hugh Smyth, formerly with the National Gallery of Art, to report to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary force (SHAEF) for reassignment to the Armies.  In May Howe and Smyth, with orders in hand, flew to Europe.

In mid-May Howe and Smyth reported to Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, head of MFA&A Section at SHAEF headquarters in Versailles. Then they went back to London to meet with individuals involved in cultural property matters.  Then it was back to Versailles where they met with Webb’s deputy, Lt. Charles L. Kuhn, USNR.  They were initially assigned to SHAEF G-5, where they received two weeks of indoctrination before being reassigned.

On May 31 Howe and Smyth flew to Frankfurt and continued on to Bad Homburg by car. At Bad Homburg they reported to European Civil Affairs Division headquarters to await orders.  There they telephoned 12th Army Group headquarters in Wiesbaden and talked with Lt. George Stout, USNR, and with Capt. L. Bancel LaFarge, who was in charge of the advance office of MFA&A in Germany.  LaFarge arranged for them to be ordered to Wiesbaden to begin operations.  At Wiesbaden they first spoke with Stout.  Stout undoubtedly told them about his work at the mine full of loot at Alt Aussee, Austria.  Third U.S. Army Monuments Men Capt. Robert K. Posey and Pfc Lincoln Kirstein had arrived at the mine on May 16 and found the task of inspecting and evacuating the mine overwhelming.  So they called in Stout, who arrived to help them on May 21.  After several days of studying the situation at the mine, Stout traveled to Third Army Headquarters to report on the situation and then went to meet with LaFarge.   After speaking to Stout, LaFarge told Howe to go to Frankfurt, on temporary duty from SHAEF, as MFA&A Officer, Frankfurt Military Government Detachment.  There he would take over MFA&A operations, including finding a building to be used as a collecting point, and told Smyth to go to Munich, to set up a collecting point for cultural property in Bavaria.  Smyth’s instructions were that the collecting point was to be ready for the first loads from Austrian repositories in less than two weeks.  LaFarge suggested to Howe that he investigate the possibility of requisitioning the Frankfurt university buildings for a depot.

At Frankfurt Howe had buildings at the University requisitioned and got Army engineers to begin repairs to make them usable as the Western Military District’s Collecting Point. Not long after the repairs begun, Col. Leslie W.  Jefferson, the head of the U.S. Group Control Council (USGCC)’s Reparation, Deliveries and Restitution (RD&R) Division and Maj. Mason Hammond, the Acting Chief of the MFA&A Branch within the RD&R Division, in mid-June desired for Howe to inspect the Merkers Mine loot at the Reichsbank in Frankfurt that was then scheduled to be transferred to the new collecting point in Frankfurt.  In the meantime Kuhn and Webb had moved up to Frankfurt and were established at SHAEF headquarters.  Kuhn, acting on the desires of Jefferson and Hammond, asked Howe to meet him at the Reichsbank to look at treasures from Merkers Mine.  There he told Howe that he was to take responsibility for them, and was to make an inventory, along with the Property Control Officer Capt, William Dunn. They were to be provided assistance by Capt. Edwin C. Rae and 1st Lt. Edith Standen, both from the MFA&A Branch USGCC.

On the third day of inventorying, Kuhn informed Howe that he was to go on a special mission.  He was to fly down to Munich the next morning and would be gone about ten days. There he was to report to Third Army Headquarters and get in touch with Stout as soon as possible. Kuhn informed Howe he could take up the inventorying when he got back, as well as overseeing the repairs to the university buildings.

At Munich Howe went to see Captain Posey, MFA&A officer for the Third U.S. Army, who was not present, but Stout was.  Stout explained he had come down from Alt Aussee that day to see Posey about the evacuation of items from Alt Aussee to the Munich Central Collecting Point, but had just missed him.  Stout told Howe they were evacuating the mine and were desperately shorthanded.  But before Stout could get Howe involved in the Alt Aussee evacuation he had another assignment for him, the monastery at Hohenfurth, in Czechoslovakia, just over the border from Austria. It needed to be evacuated as quickly as possible. But before he could undertake that, Posey wanted him to go to a small village of Grassau on the road to Salzburg where he would find a house in which were stored some eighty cases of paintings and sculpture from the Budapest Museum.  Howe would find the house and he brought back eighty-one cases of artworks for storage at the Munich Central Collecting Point.

Howe would then go to the monastery at Hohenfurth.  There he found looted cultural property from two fabulous collections, the Rothschild of Vienna and the Mannheimer of Amsterdam. He loaded up as much as he could and had it taken to Munich. Once there he met with Posey about the need for a second trip back to Hohenfurth to complete the evacuation. Posey agreed. He also arranged for 2nd Lt. Lamont Moore (formerly of the National Gallery of Art) to help him.  Before taking off, Stout arrived back in Munich from Alt Aussee and told Howe that he was going to talk to Posey about getting him and Moore assigned to Alt Aussee once the Hohenfurth project was completed.  Howe returned to Hohenfurth in the first days of July and awaited the arrival of Moore with more trucks.  Upon Moore’s arrival the two men packed and loaded the artworks and took them to the Munich Central Collecting Point.  Posey then decided that Howe and Moore would go to Alt Aussee to help Stout.

Moore and Howe in July went to Alt Aussee to assist Stout and Lieutenants Stephen Kovalyak and Frederick Shrady with the evacuation of the mine.  Among the treasures they packed and loaded for transport were Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges and the Ghent altarpiece, also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.  Stout escorted these treasures to Munich, leaving Howe, Moore, Shrady, and Kovalyak to carry on, with Howe in charge.

"Madonna michelangelo". Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Madonna michelangelo”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In late July Howe and Moore wrapped up their activities at Alt Aussee and drove a car back to Munich, carrying the Rothschild jewels with them.  During the five weeks of the evacuation of Alt Aussee under Stout and then Howe ninety truckloads of paintings, sculpture, and furniture had been removed from the mine. Although it was by no means empty, the most important treasures had been taken out. At this point Third U.S. Army pulled out of the area.

Back at Munich Posey gave Howe, Moore, and Kovalyak their next assignment – the evacuation of Reichsmarshall, Hermann Goering’s collection at Berchtesgaden.  They would spend two weeks there and completed the evacuation of the entire Goering collection, which included, among other things, art work, sculpture, and furniture.  In all they had sent thirty-one truckloads to Munich, finishing the assignment in early August.

The next major assignment for Howe and his team was the evacuation of the records of the Nazi art looting organization, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) from Neuschwanstein Castle, some 80 miles south of Munich.  The castle had been used by the ERR during the war as a storage location for its loot and records. The job would also entail the removal of part of the stolen art treasures. The French were anxious to get everything back from Neuschwanstein, but for the present they would have to be content with the gold and the silver objects and as many of the smaller cases as the Americans could handle.  Later, it would be more practicable to ship the larger things (furniture, sculpture and pictures) directly to France by rail. The ERR records, Posey told Howe, were badly needed at the Munich Central Collecting Point in connection with the identification of the plunder stored there.  So they were told to concentrate on them and on the objects of great intrinsic value.  It would take time to get the trucks, so Howe, Moore, and Kovalyak went off to Frankfurt to see about the three of them being recognized as a Special Evacuation Team. Howe wrote “That’s what we were in fact, but we wanted to be recognized as such in name.”  They called on Maj. LaFarge (who became Chief of the MFA&A Section when SHAEF dissolved in mid-July) and Lt. Cmdr. Kuhn, at United States Forces European Theater (USFET) headquarters, who agreed to them being a three-person team, working out of USFET.  Because of the continued problems getting trucks for the evacuation they went to Marburg to visit Captain Walker Hancock’s collecting point operation.

Howe, Moore, and Kovalyak, after their visits to Frankfurt and Marburg, in mid-August returned to Munich where they were informed that six trucks were now available.  Then it was off to Neuschwanstein.  Their base of operations for the partial evacuation of Neuschwanstein was Fussen, where there was a small Military Government Detachment.  From there, it was more than a mile up the side of a mountain to the castle.  When they got to the castle, the wing in which the ERR items were stored was locked and sealed by Capt. James J. Rorimer, when he had visited the castle in early May. They had brought the key with them from Third Army Headquarters.  They eventually located the ERR offices. They were crowded with bookshelves and filing cabinets.  They also located two rooms which had been used as a photographic laboratory.  The Neuschwanstein operation lasted eight days during the latter part of August. They worked nights as well because there were thousands of small objects (many of them fragile and extremely valuable) which they could not trust to the inexpert hands of their day-time work party.  There was no electricity in the small storage rooms, so they had to work by candle-light. They packed the 2,000 pieces of gold and silver in the David-Weill collection from Paris. They also packed up the ERR records for transport to Munich.  The records included over 20,000 catalogue cards, each representing a confiscated work or group of works, 8,000 negatives, and files of documents.  Before leaving the area they visited the house in Gipsmuehl (a small village below the castle) where German art dealer Gustav Rochlitz was staying and took 22 paintings from him. “They were,” Howe wrote, “without exception, works of excellent quality. One large early Picasso…was alone worth a small fortune.”

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Photograph of the ERR File Cabinets

 

When Howe, Moore, and Kovalyak got back to Munich from Neuschwanstein at the end of August, they were told by Smyth that preparations were being made for the immediate restitution of several important masterpieces recovered in the American Zone.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower had approved a proposal to return at once to each of the countries overrun by the Germans at least one outstanding work of art. This was to be done in his name, as a gesture of “token restitution,” symbolizing the policy with regard to ultimate restitution of all stolen art treasure to the rightful owner nations. They would be sent back from Germany at the expense of the U.S. Government.  Belgium was to receive the first token restitution-the great van Eyck altarpiece-The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Howe, Moore, and Kovalyak supervised the loading from the Munich Central Collecting Point and it was flown to Brussels on August 21 accompanied by Posey.  The next day the altarpiece was delivered to the Royal Palace, where the Belgians signed a receipt. On September 3 an official ceremony took place at the Palace.  It was attended by Maj. LaFarge, Lt. Col. Mason Hammond, Chief of MFA&A Branch USGCC and his deputy, Capt. Calvin Hathaway.

Shortly after the return of the Ghent altarpiece, Posey was demobilized.  His duties as MFA&A Officer at Third Army Headquarters in Munich were assumed by Captain Edwin Rae.  During the early days of Rae’s regime Kuhn paid a brief visit to Munich.  He had just completed the transfer of the Berlin Museum collections (recovered at Merkers Mine) from Frankfurt to the Landesmuseum in Wiesbaden, which became the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point.  The university buildings in Frankfurt, which Howe had requisitioned for a Collecting Point, had proved unsuitable.  Kuhn was headed for Vienna to confer with Lt. Col. Ernest Dewald, Chief of the MFA&A Section at United States Forces, Austria (USFA) Headquarters (formerly professor of art history at Princeton University) regarding the evacuation of the mine at Alt Aussee.  In early September USFA had requested USGCC’s agreement to proposal that art objects (non Austrian) still located at Alt Aussee be removed by USFA to the Munich Central Collecting Point beginning immediately. On September 12 USGCC approved the request and four days later USFET notified Third U.S. Army of the approval.

Dewald wanted to complete the evacuation of the mine at Alt Aussee which was then under his jurisdiction.  For this project he hoped to obtain the services of Howe and the Special Evacuation Team of the Third Army.  Rae was reluctant to lend Howe, Moore, and Kovalyak because there was still so much work to be done in Bavaria.  But he agreed, provided Kuhn could sell the idea to the Third Army Chief of Staff.  Kuhn did so and departed, taking Kovalyak with him who wanted to see Vienna.

After they left, Rae requested Howe and Moore to make an inspection trip of cultural property collections in northern Bavaria. They went to Bamberg, Coburg, and Schloss Tambach.  When they returned to Munich, Kovalyak was back from Vienna.  He reported that Kuhn had already left for Frankfurt and Dewald was coming to Munich to talk about reopening the Alt Aussee mine operation.  He said that either Kuhn or LaFarge would come down from USFET Headquarters when Dewald arrived.  Howe, Moore, and Kovalyak then met with Rae.  He had a new assignment for them.  He had just received orders from USFET Headquarters to prepare the Cracow altarpiece for shipment.  It was to be sent back to Poland as a token restitution.  This was the colossal carved altarpiece by Veit Stoss which the Nazis had stolen from the Church of St. Mary at Cracow and moved to Nuremberg.

"Krakow oltarz Stwosza" by Pko - Own work (own photo). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Krakow oltarz Stwosza” by Pko – Own work (own photo). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On Rae’s instructions, Howe and Kovalyak went to Nuremberg to pack the altarpiece.  Moore had remained in Munich to make tentative arrangements for trucks, once Howe informed him how many they would need. At Nuremberg Howe and Kovalyak began packing the altarpiece for transport.  The project collapsed when Howe was called back to Munich.  LaFarge was arriving from Frankfurt and wanted to see him.  Plans for the trip to Cracow were indefinitely postponed.  Internal conditions in Poland were too unsettled to risk returning the altarpiece.  So Howe and Kovalyak returned to Munich.

They met with Lafarge who informed them that Moore, Kovalyak and a third officer, new to MFA&A work, were to resume the evacuation of the salt mine at Alt Aussee.  Howe was to return to USFET Headquarters at Frankfurt as Deputy Chief of the MFA&A Section, replacing Kuhn, who had just received his orders to go home.

About this time, before Moore and Kovalyak left for Alt Aussee, there was another important shipment to be made to Belgium. It was to include the Michelangelo Madonna, the eleven paintings stolen from the church in Bruges when the statue was taken, and the four panels by Dirk Bouts from the famous altarpiece in the church of St. Pierre at Louvain.  This shipment to Belgium was the first restitution where the recipient nation came to Munich to collect its property. Howe, Moore, and Kovalyak helped the Belgians pack and load the items into a truck on September 22.

Howe left Munich at the end of September.  At the same time Moore and Kovalyak were planning to depart for Alt Aussee.  Howe reported to LaFarge upon arrival at Frankfurt.  He was informed that with the removal to Berlin of the Monuments officers attached to the USGCC, their office, which included Standen, at USFET Headquarters in Frankfurt, would be moved to Hoechst (about a twenty minute drive from Frankfurt).  That was because the Restitution Control Branch of the Economics Division, of which they were part, was located there.

The first task for Howe was a token restitution to the Netherlands.  At the end of September General Eisenhower had directed the preparation, as soon as possible, of an air delivery to the Netherlands, of approximately 25 looted Dutch works of art of highest quality.  LaFarge told Howe about the token restitution and that the Dutch were then selecting items and that United States would provide a plan to fly them to Amsterdam.  He wanted Howe to be present for the transfer.  Howe departed for Amsterdam the second week of October to arrange for the transfer. On October 10, Howe was present for the return of the 27 paintings (by seventeenth century Dutch masters, including Rembrandt) that were liberated by Third US Army from Hitler and Goering Collections.  On October 19 the second load for the Netherlands left Munich, transported in Dutch trucks.

Meanwhile Moore and Kovalyak in early October went to Austria to assist in the further evacuation of looted works of art from the mine at Alt Aussee.  The evacuation began again on October 9 and between that date and November 3, 86 truckloads of items were delivered to the Munich Central Collecting Point.  The collecting point reported at the end of October that it had received a total of 8,438 cases or uncrated items from Alt Aussee (including the 3,691 cases or uncrated items received previously) and during November had received 220 more, making for a grand total of 8,658 cases or uncrated items.

Before the end of October, a token restitution was made to Czechoslovakia.  The objects chosen were the famous fourteenth century Hohenfurth altarpiece and the collection of the Army Museum at Prague.  Both had been stolen by the Nazis.  The altarpiece, evacuated from Alt Aussee mine, was then at the Munich Central Collecting Point.  The Army Museum collections were stored at Schloss Banz, near Bamberg.  Howe, now promoted to Lieutenant Commander, arranged for the Czech representatives to proceed to Schloss Banz, where they were met by Lieutenant Walter Horn.  While the Czech officers were en route, Captain Rae at Third Army was directed to arrange for the delivery of the Hohenfurth panels to Schloss Banz.  This operation was carried out successfully.

Also before the end of October, Howe became involved again the problem of the Veit Stoss altarpiece.  Major Charles Estreicher, the Polish representative, spent several days at the office at Hoechst studying their files for additional data on Polish loot in the American zone before continuing to Munich and Nuremberg.  The actual return of the altarpiece to Poland was delayed until April 1946, when the altarpiece and other Polish property were returned to Poland, accompanied by Monuments Men Capt. Everett Parker Lesley, Jr. and 1st Lt. Julianna Bumbar.

During late October Howe became involved in the controversial issue of sending German-owned art work to the United States for safe-keeping, a proposal that had been approved by authorities in Washington, D.C.  At that time LaFarge met at the USFET Headquarters in Frankfurt with the Chief of Staff to Maj. Gen. C. L. Adcock, Deputy Director of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) on the subject of the proposed removal of German-owned works of art to the United States.  LaFarge impressed upon the colonel practical difficulties involved and stressed the technical, not the moral objections to shipping valuable works of art to America.  As a result of this conference the Chief of Staff asked LaFarge to prepare a memorandum on the issue for Adcock. Howe and Standen assisted him in preparing it.  The memorandum contained a plea for the importation MFA&A personnel to assume responsibility for the project and called attention to acute shortages in packing materials and transportation facilities.  The memorandum also pointed out that the advisability of moving fragile objects across the ocean would need to be balanced against the advantages of leaving them in the Central Collecting Points.  Nothing came of their memorandum.

Within two weeks, Colonel Harry A. McBride, administrator of the National Gallery of Art, arrived in Berlin to expedite the shipment.  He flew down to Frankfurt two days later to discuss ways and means with LaFarge.  LaFarge told him that the Monuments Men were strongly opposed to the project. McBride was adamant that the project would be carried out, with or without them.

The Monuments Men on November 7 sent a memorandum to LaFarge listing their objections to the project.  This document, now known as the Wiesbaden Manifesto, was drafted and signed by 24 of the 32 Monuments officers in the American Zone at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point.  The remaining eight chose either to submit individual letters expressing their objections, or orally to express like sentiments.

Preparations for the shipment took precedence over all other activities of the MFA&A office during the next three weeks.  It was decided to ship some 200 artworks to the United States and take them from one collecting point, Wiesbaden.  It was decided that Lamont Moore would be placed in charge of the operation.  He and Kovalyak had just completed the evacuation of the mine at Alt Aussee and had returned to Munich.  McBride, a friend from their days at the National Gallery of Art, was content to leave everything in Moore’s hands.  When Moore got to Frankfurt, he and Howe spent time studying a listing of the paintings stored at Wiesbaden. Then Moore typed out a tentative selection.  The next day he and McBride went to the Collecting Point for a preliminary inspection, and not soon thereafter 202 paintings were shipped to the United States, accompanied by Moore.

In December 1945, when LaFarge went to the United States, Howe served as the acting chief of the MFA&A Section of the Restitution Control Branch of the Economics Division. He did not serve in this capacity long.  In February Howe returned home and resumed his position as director at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. He recorded the story of his European experience in Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art.  For his wartime service as a Monuments Man, Howe was honored with the Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and the Officer of the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau.

Howe later served as the Cultural Affairs Advisor with the Office of the High Commissioner of Germany during 1950-1951, during which time he returned to Germany with former Monuments Man S. Lane Faison, to assist with closing the central collecting points where the recovered artworks had been held for restitution.  From 1960-1968, Howe was a member of the Fine Arts Committee for The White House and he continued to serve on numerous panels and commissions as an art advisor. He retired from the Legion of Honor Museum in 1968, and passed away in 1994 at the age of 89.

Sources:

  • Perhaps the most useful source for this blog was Thomas Carr Howe, Jr., Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art  (Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Publishers, 1946)
  • Among the holdings of the National Archives I used were:
    • General Subject File Aug 1943-1945, 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, Record Group 331
    • Numeric File Aug 1943-Jul 1945, Secretariat, G-5 Division, General Staff, RG 331
    • Numeric-Subject Operations File 1943-July 1945, RG 331 (NAID 611522)
    • Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Branch (MFAA) Field Reports, 1943-1946, RG 239 (Roll 72 of NARA Microfilm Publication M-1944) (NAID 1537270)
    • General Records of the Section Chief, 1945-1949, RG 260 (Roll 1 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1949) (NAID 1571282)
    • Activity Reports, 1945-1951, Records of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, RG 260 (Roll 54 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1947) (NAID 2435804)
    • File: 312.1 Miscellaneous Correspondence, Central Files, 1944-1949, RG 260 (NAID 6923852)
    • File: 007 – 1 Fine Arts and Cultural Objects Folder #1, Jan 1946-April 1946 (NAID 7193794), Central Files, 1944-1949, RG 260
    • File: 007 1945 (NAID 7248132), General Correspondence, 1945-1946, RG 260
    • File: AG 007 Fine Arts, Archives and Museums USGCC 1944-45, General Correspondence, 1944-1945 (NAID 6923844), RG 260
    • General Records, 1946-1948, “Ardelia Hall Collection”, RG 260 (Roll 13, 16 and 21 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1941) (NAID 1560051)
    • Activity Reports, 1945, “Ardelia Hall Collection”, RG 260 (Roll 32 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1941) (NAID 1561462)
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