An actual Monuments Man, Harry Ettlinger, 88, joined Robert M. Edsel, chairman of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, in presenting the leather-bound "Hitler Album 6" to Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.
"Hitler Album 6 is the last-known original album of nearly 100 created by the Nazis...documenting Hitler's premeditated theft of art and other treasures," Ferriero told a press conference in the ornate Archivist's Reception Room.
Album 6 has 78 black and white photographs of paintings by Watteau, Fragonard, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and other French painters. Like all of the albums, it has a precisely documented inventory, specifying a number for each family from which they were stolen, and a number for each item stolen from that family.
The first image, "Portrait of a Woman" by 18th century painter Nicholas de Largillière, had the inventory code R437, denoting that it was the 437th item taken from the Rothschild family in France. (Other Hitler Albums document more than 5,000 objects taken from the French branch of the Rothschilds.)
Many of the treasures were stolen from, or extorted from Jewish families, who were then sent to their deaths. Others were taken from museums, churches, and other institutions, and hidden in some 1,500 places like salt mines and the famed "Mad" King Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria.
The albums were created by the Nazi's special task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in charge of stealing cultural treasures in German-occupied countries.
Archivist Ferriero said that the albums enhance "the National Archives' role as the world’s leading resource on Holocaust-era assets...We are grateful to the Monuments Men Foundation for its continuing work to recover cultural and historic treasures and documents that were stolen during World War Two."
"This is not a closed chapter," Ferriero stated.
Edsel, author of the best-selling "The Monuments Men", basis of the George Clooney film, also stressed, "This album is just the tip of the iceberg for hundreds of thousands of cultural items still missing since World War Two."
The Monuments Men Foundation (MMF) obtained Album 6 from a nephew of a Texan G.I., who had taken it as a souvenir from Hitler's home in the Bavarian Alps at Berchtesgaden, Germany, during the last days of the war.
Edsel said that the foundation gets calls (on their toll free number 866-WWIIART) from veterans and their families "almost every day" about returning these objects taken as souvenirs.
He and Ferriero thanked Clooney and his popular film "The Monuments Men" for greatly increasing awareness about the massive Nazi looting, and increasing pressure to return albums and other "souvenirs". (Edsel said he always thought a movie would be made, but "plenty of people wanted to cart me off to a loony bin.")
"'The Japanese fought for their emperor, the British for glory, and the Americans for souvenirs,'" wrote William Manchester in his World War Two memoir, "Goodbye, Darkness", noted Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist and expert on Holocaust-era assets records.
One of only six surviving Monuments Men, Ettlinger is a German Jew whose family escaped on the eve of World War Two. In the film, his character is Sam Epstein, played by Dimitri Leonidas.
Ettlinger spoke beside a photograph of himself with a Rembrandt self-portrait. "It had been in a museum three blocks from my home in (Karlsruhe) Germany, but I was not allowed to go in because I was Jewish. Thanks to the Monuments Men, I finally got to see it."
The Monuments Men were some 345 men and women from the U.S. and a dozen other countries, who worked to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from destruction during World War II. In the last year of the war, they tracked, located, and ultimately returned more than five million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis.
For more info: National Archives, www.archives.gov. National Archives' Holocaust-Era Assets, www.archives.gov/research/holocaust/. Monuments Men Foundation, www.monumentsmenfoundation.org, toll-free number 866-WWIIART. Robert M. Edsel's books include "The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History" (Center Street), and "Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis" (W. W. Norton & Company). "The Monuments Men" film on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and Digital will be released May 20 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, www.SonyPictures.com.