Gerlot W. Schmidt (1914-1976)
Gerlot W. Schmidt was born in Charlottenburg, Germany on May 3, 1914. Both parents were in the creative industries, having met at the Imperial Academy in Berlin. His father, Gerhard, was an assistant professor at the Berlin Art Academy, as well as running a successful and prominent interior decorating firm. Along with his painter wife Lotte, their business employed 18 craftsmen and was located on the fashionable Unter den Linden street in Berlin, where even the Kaiser himself was a patron.
In 1923, when Gerlot was nine years old, his family immigrated to Bergen, New Jersey. In addition to his parents, he also had a younger brother, Wolfgang Robert. His grandmother also emigrated with them to America. In 1926 the family settled in Leonia, a town with artistic credentials stretching back to the 19th century. In addition to their work maintaining a boarding house there, his mother and father continued being a painter and sculptor, respectively, regularly taking part in the town’s annual Open Studio celebration.
Following his graduation from high school, Schmidt served in the Merchant Marines as a waiter on dozens of passenger ships traveling across the Atlantic from New York to his native Germany. By the time war broke out in the US, Schmidt had been working for the Wright Aeronautincal Corps as an aircraft mechanic, and he enlisted only a couple of months after Pearl Harbor. He was assigned to the 811th Field Artillery Anti-Tank Battalion, the division created to fight against the new Panzer tanks of Nazi Germany. It isn’t known how long he stayed with the Battalion, or his experiences there, but at some point he was assigned to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) under Eisenhower, and was most likely based with the company at the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles.
By July 1945 he had joined the MFAA Branch as an Intelligence Specialist. Being a German-speaker with a background in art must have made him very useful. He was assigned to temporary duty at the Munich Central Collecting Point, the central clearing house for hundreds of thousands of works of art and other cultural objects stolen by the Nazis, and may have been one of the first officers into Hitler’s bunker in search of documents. There is also circumstantial evidence that S/Sgt Schmidt may have helped the removal of art from Neuschwanstein castle in April 1945. Towards the end of his service, he worked under Lt. Julianna Bumbar at the Reparations, Deliveries and Restitutions Division of the MFAA in Höchst, Germany, helping in the restitution of many stolen treasures.
Schmidt was discharged from the U.S. Army in November 1945 and returned to Leonia, where he followed in his family’s footsteps and became a commercial artist. He was an active member of the community, participating in gardening exhibitions, teaching children driftwood sculpture at the Bergen Community Museum, as well collecting antiques. He competed in many amateur photography competitions, and even winning some, and even though he officially retired in 1972, he became the official photographer for Operation Sail. A non-profit that celebrated maritime history and promoted goodwill between nations, it was a culmination of many of his passions.
S/Sgt. Schmidt was tragically murdered on July 11, 1976. A member of the gay community in a time of limited acceptance, the circumstances around his death soon overshadowed his life. However, we at the Monuments Men Foundation can now become a small piece in remembering Gerlot Schmidt’s life for all he was – a hero.
*The Foundation wishes to express thanks to Mr. North Peterson for his contribution to this biographical profile.