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  • Caroline Cassin

"Monuments Men". Honouring the legacy of the men and women who served in the Monuments...

...Fine Arts, and Archives section. Today, I interview Anna Bottinelli

President of the Monuments Men Foundation.USA at Monuments Men Foundation For the Preservation of Art.

Germans transporting art to St. Leonardo - Germans display Botticelli’s masterpiece, Camilla and the Centaur, from the Uffizi. National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. / Public Domain

What is the aim mission of the Monuments Men Foundation? The main challenges?

The Monuments Men Foundation honors the legacy of the men and women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, known as the “Monuments Men,” and their unprecedented and heroic work protecting and safeguarding civilization’s most important artistic and cultural treasures from armed conflict. During its first twelve years of operations, the Foundation successfully raised worldwide awareness about the Monuments Men and Women through film, television, and books, honored their military service through the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States, and preserved their legacy through a partnership with the National World War II Museum making the Foundation’s incomparable archives and artifacts accessible to students and scholars around the world. In October 2019, the Museum broke ground on its Liberation Pavilion, which will feature a permanent exhibition about the Monuments Men, the first of its kind.

As the Foundation begins its second decade of operations, its focus will now shift to longer term objectives. In addition to locating and returning works of art and other cultural objects to their rightful owners, the Foundation will put the remarkable legacy of the Monuments Men and Women to work through custom-designed programs that not only educate and inform our youth, but challenge them to become the Monuments Men and Women of tomorrow. With world governments facing ever increasing demands for funding, no nation has the financial resources to fund the preservation of all of its national treasures. Consequently, preserving our shared cultural heritage for future generations depends on informing and inspiring our youth to meet the challenges ahead. It is an ambitious agenda, but one that pales in comparison to the challenge confronting the handful of Monuments Officers who conceived of the concept of cultural preservation officers in the midst of the most destructive war in history, without the use of any tools of technology. What they achieved not only informs the mission of the Foundation, it will serve as an inspiring guide to students, educators, military and world leaders, and the general public.

La Jaconde- National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD-PARIS - SEPTEMBER 12, 1944: Monuments Man James Rorimer (right) and Ecole du Louvre director Robert Rey, stand before the empty wall where the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) once hung before its precautionary evacuation from the Louvre in 1939.

How do you compile the information’s about cultural areas, monuments and objects in Europe to find the rightful owners?

The Foundation's toll free tip line [1-866-WWII-ART, or 1-866-994-4278], the first service of its kind, provides a simple path for those who may be in possession or have knowledge of missing objects to come forward with vital information. Many of the Foundation’s successful returns have been the result of exactly these type of leads. Research starts from the information provided and then develops in different directions, sometimes it is strictly art related, oftentimes it delves in the military history of the person who had possession of the painting. Restitutions are always arranged with the collaboration of the governments of the country receiving the work of art and it’s representation in Washington D.C.

Torah Scrolls - NARA / Public Domain-Race Institute Building

In a corner of the basement were hundreds of Torah scrolls piled 10 feet high. The Race Institute was used by Alfred Rosenberg to research the characteristics of various people overrun by the German Army and under subsequent Nazi rule. American Chaplain Samuel Blinder examines a Sefer Torah as a he begins the overwhelming task of sorting and inspecting. July 1945.

Who are the Monuments Men? Where are they? What did they accomplish? Can you explain to our readers?

The Monuments Men were a group of approximately 345 men and women ---museum curators, art historians, librarians, architects, even artists--- from 14 nations responsible for preserving the artistic and cultural achievements of western civilization from the destruction of war and theft by the Nazis during World War II. Most of these individuals had volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Section, eventually coined “Monuments Men,” within Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied Armies. These individuals braved the front lines to track, locate, and recover looted objects. Their work was dangerous: two Monuments Men were killed in combat while protecting works of art. In the last year of the war, they tracked, located, and in the years that followed, returned more than five million artistic and cultural items to the countries from which they had been taken. Their role in preserving cultural treasures was without precedent.

Can you give one or some examples of a piece of Art returned and their history?

In August 2014 the Foundation received a call from James Hetherington who stated that he had several paintings that had been in Europe during the war. Mr. Hetherington had recently learned of the Monuments Men Foundation after seeing information provided at the end of The Monuments Men film. Hetherington’s step-father, Major William Oftebro, a World War II officer who died many years ago, mailed the paintings home to his wife, James’ mother, after the war. Major Oftebro served in the 750th Tank Battalion and received the Bronze Star on April 28, 1945. He informed his family that he had won the paintings in a poker game. After several interviews Mr. Hetherington brought the paintings to the office of the Foundation for examination. Determining the rightful owner proved straightforward: all three paintings contained museum labels and identifying marks of the Joachim-Ernst-Stiftung, a German Foundation whose art collections had been placed on loan to museums and historic houses in and around the German city of Dessau. That collection is now part of the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie Dessau collection. The paintings were handed over to the German Embassy in May 2015 during a ceremony at the U.S. State Department and returned to the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie a few weeks later. They are the only three paintings of the many missing since the end of WWII to have made their return to the city of Dessau.

Goering and Matisse paintings - Archives des Musées Nationaux.

The “Most Wanted Works of Art” and the most wanted documents are listed on the website, can you explain what they are?

The Most Wanted list of works of art includes 25 major works of art that are still missing today and that we believe survived the war. The Most Wanted list of documents concerns missing photo albums, specifically the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) Photo Albums and the Gemälde-Galerie Linz Photo Albums, created by the Nazis to document their looting operation. The ERR Albums were created by the Third Reich’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) staff. This unit was assigned the responsibility for the confiscation of “ownerless” Jewish works of art. As the ERR staff looted the French collections, they created photograph albums cataloguing items of which Hitler and his curators could choose for the Führer’s Art Museum in Linz, Austria. Nearly 100 such volumes were created. In May 1945, thirty-nine original ERR albums were discovered at Neuschwanstein by the Monuments Men, and four additional albums were recovered by the Foundation, all of which are now in the possession of the United States National Archives. The Gemälde-Galerie Linz Photo Albums are the only documents that show which works of art were intended for Hitler’s museum at Linz. There were originally 31 known albums, but only 19 were said to have survived the war. Of those albums, eighteen were found in May 1945 at Berchtesgaden in the study of the “Berghof,” Hitler’s vacation home. The last one (album XX, the only sculpture album) was found at the home of Hitler’s secretary, Martin Bormann. In 2009, the Foundation recovered another album, Album XIII, which was originally taken as a souvenir from Hitler’s home in Berchtesgaden. Albums IX-XII; XIV-XIX; and XXIX are still missing. These albums are as valuable as any works of art and are considered cultural property, meaning that they may not be sold. Each album also played a major role in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials. Anybody with knowledge of the whereabouts of these documents, please contact the Foundation at

Many thanks Anna Bottinelli !

Caroline Cassin

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