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 Joseph Anthony Horne (1911-1987) 

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Photographer and archivist, Joseph Anthony Horne was born in New York City on January 1, 1911. Within a year of his birth, he became a homeless orphan alone in the big city. The course of his life soon changed for the better when he boarded a train to the American Midwest. Organized by the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital, these so-called “orphan trains” relocated thousands of orphaned or abandoned children from industrialized cities to foster families in rural Midwestern farming communities. Horne was adopted by Anton and Maria Wisnieski of Dodge County, Nebraska. He spent his childhood on the family’s farm, becoming fluent in German and developing a deep understanding of life on the Great Plains. In 1928 he returned to the East Coast for college, studying Classical languages at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. before continuing his education in England at Caius College, Cambridge University.


From a young age, Horne was gifted in languages, literature, music, photography, and art. In June 1933 he became a music teacher at the Smith Williams Conservatory of Music in New Castle, Pennsylvania. When the Conservatory was forced to close its doors amid the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, Horne worked a string of odd jobs. He found employment as a bookstore clerk, medical photographer, life insurance salesman, and part-time music teacher. It was sometime in this period that Horne married his wife Else, and by 1937 their son Joseph Jr. had been born. 


By 1941, Joseph was hired as a photographer for the Vets Administration, Mt Alto Hospital in D.C., and in early 1943 Horne joined the photography staff of the Farm Security Administration-U.S. Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The FSA-OWI began as part of the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal program devoted to relocating thousands of Americans from agriculturally exhausted farmland to newly-formed greenbelt communities. He utilized his familiarity with the trials of life on the Great Plains to produce hundreds of photographs documenting the everyday lives of tenant farmers and workers during the Great Depression. Some of his other photographs include victory gardens in the Washington, D.C. area as well as a smiling Eleanor Roosevelt with the folk singer Pete Seeger.

Horne enlisted in the U.S. Army in March 1944. Assigned as an Information and Education Specialist, he gave lectures on reading and current events to officers stationed in Washington, D.C. By early 1945, Horne had been drafted into France, landing in Le Havre with the 929th Heavy Automotive Maintenance Company, where he took photos of war-torn Europe. In April 1946 he was recommended for service with the MFAA by Monuments Man Paul Vanderbilt, Horne’s former colleague and Chief of the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress. As an Archivist with the Libraries and Archives Section of the MFAA in Berlin, Germany, Horne worked alongside leading American archivists Monuments Men Vanderbilt, Lester K. Born, and Sargent B. Child. He applied his fluency in German during numerous trips to inspect archives and libraries in repositories throughout Germany. In August 1946 he undertook a trip to examine archives in fifteen districts in Bavaria, reporting his findings to headquarters and updating the section’s central files. Horne was invited to several meetings and conferences in the U.S. Zone of Occupation, participating in negotiations for the return of looted archival material and liaising with directors of the German museums and institutes.


In February 1947, Horne was selected as Director and Chief Archivist of the Offenbach Archival Depot (OAD) in Offenbach, Germany. Established by the MFAA in July 1945, the OAD was the collecting point for looted and German-owned libraries and archives, as well as Jewish cultural and religious items. The five-floor depot contained books and records belonging to museums, churches, libraries, and private collectors across the globe, including Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, France, the USSR, Italy, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. Horne supervised dozens of denazified German employees who identified and sorted millions of books, documents, and manuscripts in preparation for their return to the countries from which they had been stolen. The depot’s first Director, Monuments Man Col. Seymour J. Pomrenze, later remarked that, “as of August 1947 some 2,000,000 books and other identifiable materials had been restituted and distributed.”


Horne remained involved with the OAD until early 1949, when he became Director of the Amerika Haus (commonly referred to as the U.S. Information Center) in Frankfurt. The Amerika Häuser were created by the U.S. Information Service as centers for the study of American culture, politics, and society. Each location featured a library of American publications as well as a program of events which featured films, English courses, art classes, and reading workshops for children. These efforts were welcomed by the German people, who had been separated from the western ideals of democracy and human rights by more than a decade of strict Nazi literary censorship.


Following his return to the United States, Horne continued his work with the U.S. government. He served as a cultural attaché in Italy, India (where he was the Cultural Affairs Officer in Bangalore), and Austria and played a key role in the U.S. State Department’s relations with Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In addition to around-the-clock work at the U.S. State Department, Horne wrote the foreword to Matila Simon’s book, The Battle of the Louvre: The Struggle to Save French Art in World War II (1971).


Joseph A. Horne died in Ft. Pierce, Florida on December 30, 1987. Today, his photographs are conserved as part of the records of the FSA-OWI in the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

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