The Kümmel Report

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and Dr. Sylvia Naylor, Archivists at the National Archives in College Park.

Dr. Alfred Hentzen, on the staff of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, was mobilized into the German Army in mid-1942.  While serving on the Intelligence Staff of a Panzer Division in North Africa, he was captured by the British on May 12, 1943, his fortieth birthday.  Three years later, in London, he was interrogated by John M. Phillips, the head of the London Desk of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Art Looting Investigation Unit and Denys Sutton, Secretary to the Commission for the Protection & Restitution of Cultural Material (the Vaucher Commission).

Hentzen told his interrogators that he worked on a special project in 1940 with Dr. Otto Kümmel, a specialist in East Asia art and the history of weapons. Born on August 22, 1874, Kümmel studied at the Universities of Freiburg, Bonn and Paris. He began his career in 1901 as a volunteer at the Museum of Applied Arts in Hamburg. During the next eighteen years he worked at the Zeughaus, Berlin; the Municipal collections of Freiburg; Museum of Ethnology, Berlin, of which he became the director in 1919. In 1932 he joined the Nazi Party and in 1934 he was appointed Director General of the Berlin State Museums.  He also served as the Director of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum.

Hentzen said that in September 1940, together with Kümmel and Dr. Niels von Holst (Head of the branch office of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum) he arrived in Paris on a secret mission. Their aim was to compile a catalogue of those works of art taken by France from Germany during the Napoleonic Wars and those sequestrated by the French authorities at the outbreak of the war in 1914.  This, he said, was an amplification of the research begun by Dr. Karl Wilkes of Düsseldorf and Dr. Rudolf Brandts of Bonn which had been published in 1939 as Denkschrift und Listen über den Unstraub der Franzosen im Rheinland seit 1794 (Memorandum and lists of the art theft of the French in the Rhineland since 1794).  Their task, Hentzen said, had been commissioned by the German Ministry of Propaganda with a view to advancing German claims for restitution at the Peace Treaty with France. Their research work was mainly carried out at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and consisted of investigating catalogues of sales and museums and the gazette of the Hôtel Drouot, the large auction house in Paris that opened in 1852.  Von Holst was responsible for the Napoleonic period; Hentzen for the 1914 period; and Kümmel for the general editing.  Hentzen also went to Brussels in order to compile lists of Belgian and Dutch collections taken by the French.  This research, which was later published in mimeographed form took three months to complete, and necessitated three visits to Paris.

The report, which was commissioned by the Reich Minister and Chief of the Reich Chancellery and the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, was completed by Otto Kümmel on December 31, 1940.  It lists art works and other historically relevant objects, including paintings, prints, textiles, coins, furniture, and other objects that they claimed fell into foreign hands since 1500 without German permission or based on questionable legal acts.  The list did not include books, manuscripts, maps, sheets of music, archival materials, military trophies and weapons.

The report consists of three main parts:

  • Part I lists works whose location is known. It is thereunder subdivided according to the significance of the works (works and collections of special artistic and historical significance, works of lesser prominence and works of local significance).
  • Part II lists works whose whereabouts are unknown (and thus it is unknown if they still exist).
  • Part III lists works owned by German nationals that were confiscated as a result of the World War and subsequent Versailles and St. Germain Treaties.

The description of each item on the list typically includes title/description of object, name of artist (if known), and location.  For works in the possession of museums, only a catalog number is cited.

On May 5 elements of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, and the 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division entered Berchtesgaden.  As soon as the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment occupied Berchtesgaden, Technician Thrid Grade (T/3) George Allen, with the Counterintelligence Corps (CIC), 101st Airborne Division, proceeded there to open the Division (MIS) Counterintelligence office.  He was soon assisted by CIC Special Agent Eric Albrecht, who had been sent to the division on detached service.  On May 8, Albrecht found copy No. 1 of the Kümmel Report on the Obersalzberg, the mountainside retreat situated above Berchtesgaden, perhaps at or near the Berghof (Adolf Hitler’s residence).  That same day, Capt. James J. Rorimer, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Specialist Officer with the Seventh U.S. Army arrived at Berchtesgaden.  Not long afterwards Albrecht gave Rorimer the recovered Kümmel Report.

In early 1946, Rorimer would leave military service and return to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Instead of sending the copy of the Kümmel Report to the Heidelberg Document Center operated by the Seventh U.S. Army, he took it home with him.  Had he turned it over to the document center, which in turn transferred it to the Munich Central Collecting Point as a reference tool, or retained it as part of its captured records collection, the report would have subsequently been accessioned by the National Archives.

In 1949, Rorimer contacted Ardelia Hall, Arts and Monuments officer of the Department of State, about turning his copy of the Kümmel Report over to the Department of State.  Following up on their conversations, Lawrence S. Morris, Acting Chief, Division of Libraries and Institutes, wrote Rorimer on April 28, 1949, that arrangements were being made to transfer the Kümmel Report.  Morris informed Rorimer that the “report will remain in the custody of the Department of State or other appropriate government agency.” On April 28, Ardelia Hall requested that arrangements be made for an official Department courier to pick up the report from Rorimer.

Rorimer wrote Morris on May 2 that he had turned over to the Registrar’s office of the Metropolitan Museum the report for delivery to an official Department of State courier.  According to the museum’s website a photostatic copy was made from the original typescript at the Department of State.  It is this photostatic copy that can be viewed on line.

The exact date of transfer from the museum to the Department of State is not certain, but by March 1950 it was in the Department of State files.  At the end of that month the Chief Curator of the National Gallery, John Walker, had his secretary call Ardelia Hall and ask that the Kümmel Report be “deposited in the National Gallery of Library of Congress.”  Hall told the secretary that she had use for the report and believed it was not for public use.”  Hall added that if Walker wanted to see it, she thought that might be arranged, but that she could not transfer it.  The secretary said the National Gallery of Art was buying a photostat from the Metropolitan Museum.

On January 29, 1962 the original copy of the Kümmel Report was transferred from the Department of State to the Library of Congress, to whom we refer researchers when they request the report.


Sources

  • John M. Phillips, Head, London Desk, OSS Art Unit and Denys Sutton, Secretary to the Commission for the Protection & Restitution of Cultural Material, Report on Preliminary Interrogation of P.W. Alfred Hentzen (ID668), Held at London on 22-23 June 1945, n.d., File: Personalities-Miscellaneous, Subject File, 1940-1946, NAID 1537311 Record Group 239, National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1944, Roll No. 89.
  • Decimals 862.403/5-249 and 862.414/4-2949, Central Decimal File 1945-1949, NAID 302021, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59.
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2 Responses to The Kümmel Report

  1. Miriam Kleiman says:

    Sylvia and Greg – thanks for sharing yet another fascinating story! Quick question – does Matt Damon know this report is at LoC, not A2?

    Like

  2. greg bradsher says:

    Miriam, You will have to find some time from your busy schedule to ask him. Greg

    Like

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