These brown leather bound photograph albums, created by the staff of a special Nazi task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, document the unprecedented and systematic looting of Europe by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The ERR was the main Nazi agency engaged in the theft of cultural treasures in Nazi-occupied countries. As the ERR staff looted, photographed and catalogued the French collections, they created leather bound albums. Each page of the album contained a photograph of one stolen item.
In May 1945, 39 original ERR albums were discovered at the Castle of Neuschwanstein by the Monuments Men. They had been stored there by the Germans along with records that documented their confiscations and thousands of looted items. These albums were subsequently taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point where they were used by the Monuments Men to assist in the restitution process. In late 1945 these albums were used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations.
Until recently it was believed that the remaining ERR albums had been destroyed during the latter days of World War II. Since 2007, The Monuments Men Foundation has recovered four more: ERR Albums 6, 7, 8 and 15. These were taken as souvenirs from the Berghof at Berchtesgaden by members of the 501st Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division and the 989th Field Artillery Battalion. Today, all 43 ERR photo albums are property of the United States National Archives.
2012 - ERR Albums 7 & 15
Cpl. Albert Lorenzetti and Private First Class Yerke Zane Larson each took one leather bound album from Adolf Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps. Yerke Zane Larson, who picked up Album 15, served in the 501st Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, “the Screaming Eagles.” Cpl. Albert Lorenzetti, who served in the 989th Field Artillery Battalion, removed Album 7 from the Berghof the same week as Larson as proof he’d been in Hitler’s home.
Album 7 includes images of sixty-nine paintings which represented very early thefts, some as early as 1940 and early inventory numbers such as EW4 (the fourth item stolen from Elizabeth Wildenstein). Images of two important paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard are featured in Album 7. Girl with Two Doves, or Mädchen mit zwei Tauben (inventory code: R38) sold at auction in 2000 for over $5 million after having been properly repatriated by the Monuments Men in 1946. Album 7 also includes The Dance Outdoors, or Tanz im Freien, (inventory code: R67) attributed to the painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, which was intended for Hitler’s Führermuseum. Although the majority of the paintings featured in Album 7 appear to have been properly restituted after the war, four paintings are listed on the ERR Database as not having been restituted.
Album 15 contains photos of forty-one pieces of furniture, primarily from the Rothschild family. Three of those pieces, inventory codes R917, R943, and R944, were prominently featured in one of the exhibits staged at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris for Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring to select items for his own collection.
2014 - ERR Albums 6 & 8
Album 6 was found when an heir to an American soldier stationed in the Berchtesgaden area of Germany contacted the Monuments Men Foundation. In the closing days of World War II, the soldier had entered Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps and picked up the photographic album as a souvenir. The soldier’s nephew inherited the album, but was initially unaware of its historical significance until meeting with Robert Edsel, Founder and Chairman of the Monuments Men Foundation, in 2007.
Album 6 includes images of seventy-three paintings which represented very early thefts, and early inventory numbers such as EW1 (the first item stolen from Elizabeth Wildenstein). All the paintings from the album were listed on the ERR Database, with six of the paintings listed as not having been restituted. The first image seen in Album 6 is a painting stolen from the Rothschild family titled “Portrait of a
Woman” by Nicolas de Largillière (inventory code: R437.) The painting was later found by the Monuments Men at the Castle of Neuschwanstein, and can be seen on the front cover of The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel being carried out of the castle by the Monuments Men, including James Rorimer, future director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Two paintings featured in Album 6 are known to be in collections in the United States: “Landscape with Aquaduct” by Nicolas-Antoine Taunay (inventory code: SEL88), can be seen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and “Portrait of Lambert de Vermont” by Nicolas de Largillière (inventory code: BOR54) which the Norton Simon Museum purchased from the Rothschild family in 1982.
Album 8 was donated to the National Archives in 2007 and received by Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, who hailed this discovery as “one of the most significant finds related to Hitler’s premeditated theft of art and other cultural treasures to be found since the Nuremberg trials."
Five years later, in 2012, the Foundation donated Albums 7 and 15 during a ceremony in Dallas, Texas. The niece of Cpl. Albert Lorenzetti, Jane Gonzalez, commented: “My uncle was from a generation that grew up making sacrifices and putting others before themselves, I believe that donating this album to the National Archives and thereby assuring its preservation and availability to the public honors his legacy and is a testament to his personal character and patriotism.”
David S. Ferriero, successor to Allen Weinstein, received the donation of Album 6 in 2014, stating how, "Documents such as these may play a role in helping to solve some of those mysteries and, more importantly, helping victims recover their treasures."
Today the National Archives has custody of the original 39 albums, as well as the four additional albums, numbers 6, 7, 8 and 15, discovered by the Monuments Men Foundation and donated to the National Archives.
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