International Research: Nazi-Era Cultural Property

The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) Photographic Albums at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg

In his opening statement at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Justice Robert H. Jackson (an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court), the Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality, on November 21, 1945, stated:

Not only was there a purpose to debilitate and demoralize the economy of Germany's neighbors for the purpose of destroying their competitive position, but there was looting and pilfering on an unprecedented scale. We need not be hypocritical about this business of looting. I recognize that no army moves through occupied territory without some pilfering as it goes. Usually the amount of pilfering increases as discipline wanes. If the evidence in this case showed no looting except of that sort, I certainly would ask no conviction of these defendants for it.

But we will show you that looting was not due to the lack of discipline or to the ordinary weaknesses of human nature. The German organized plundering, planned it, disciplined it, and made it official just as he organized everything else, and then he compiled the most meticulous records to show that he had done the best job of looting that was possible under the circumstances. And we have those records.

The Defendant Rosenberg was put in charge of a systematic plundering of the art objects of Europe by direct order of Hitler dated 29 January 1940 (136-PS). On the 16th of April 1943 Rosenberg reported that up to the 7th of April, 92 railway cars with 2,775 cases containing art objects had been sent to Germany; and that 53 pieces of art had been shipped to Hitler direct, and 594 to the Defendant Goring. The report mentioned something like 20,000 pieces of seized art and the main locations where they were stored. (015-PS)

Moreover this looting was glorified by Rosenberg. Here we have 39 leather-bound tabulated volumes of his inventory, which in due time we will offer in evidence. One cannot but admire the artistry of this Rosenberg report. The Nazi taste was cosmopolitan. Of the 9,455 articles inventoried, there were included 5,255 paintings, 297 sculptures, 1,372 pieces of antique furniture, 307 textiles, and 2,224 small objects of art. Rosenberg observed that there were approximately 10,000 more objects still to be inventoried. (015-PS) Rosenberg himself estimated that the values involved would come close to a billion dollars (090-PS).

On December 18, addressing the International Military Tribunal, American Colonel Robert G. Storey said:

I now direct the attention of the tribunal to the activities of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg, an organization which planned and directed the looting of the cultural treasures of nearly all Europe. To obtain a full conception of the vastness of this looting program, it will be necessary to envision Europe as a treasure-house in which is stored the major portion of the artistic and literary product of two thousand years of Western civilization. It will further be necessary to envision the forcing of this treasure-house by a horde of vandals bent on systematically removing to the Reich these treasures, which are, in a sense, the heritage of all of us, to keep them there for the enjoyment and enlightenment of Germans alone. Unique in history, this art-seizure program staggers one's imagination and challenges one's credulity. The documents which I am about to offer in evidence will present undeniable proof of the execution of the policy to strip the occupied countries of the accumulated product of centuries of devotion to art and the pursuit of learning.

After describing various prosecution documents relating to looting by the ERR and offering into evidence others, Storey said:

If I have tried the patience of the Tribunal with numerous details as to the origin, the growth, and the operation of the art-looting organization, it is because I feel that it will be impossible for me to convey to you a full conception as to the magnitude of the plunder without conveying to you first, information as to the vast organizational work that was necessary in order to enable the defendants to collect in Germany cultural treasures of staggering proportions.

Nothing of value was safe from the grasp of the Einsatzstab. In view of the great experience of the Einsatzstab in the complex business of the organized plunder of a continent, its facilities were well suited to the looting of material other than cultural objects. Thus, when Rosenberg required equipment for the furnishing of the offices of the administration in the East, his Einsatzstab was pressed into action to confiscate Jewish homes in the West. Document Number L-188, which is Exhibit USA-386 and which I now offer in evidence, is a copy of a report submitted by the director of Rosenberg's Office West, operating under the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories. I wish to quote at some length from this document and I call the Tribunal's attention to the third paragraph on Page 3 of the translation:

"The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg was charged with the carrying out of this task" -- that is, the seizure of art properties -- "in the course of this seizure of property. At the suggestion of the Director West of the Special Section of the Einsatzstab, it was proposed to the Reichsleiter that the furniture and other contents of the unguarded Jewish homes should also be secured and dispathed to the Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories for use in the Eastern Territories."

The last paragraph on the same page states: "At first all the confiscated furniture and goods were dispatched to the administrations of the Occupied Eastern Territories. Owing to the terror attacks on German cities which then began and in the knowledge that the bombed-out persons in Germany ought to have preference over the Eastern people, Reich Minister and Reichsleiter Rosenberg obtained a new order from the Führer according to which the furniture, et cetera, obtained through the 'M Action' was to be put at the disposal of bombed-out persons within Germany."

The report continues with a description of the efficient methods employed in looting the Jewish homes in the West [a video of this portion of the trial is available here]: "The confiscation of Jewish homes was carried out as follows: when no records were available of the addresses of Jews who had fled or departed, as was the case, for instance, in Paris, so-called requisitioning officials went from house to house in order to collect information as to abandoned Jewish homes.They drew up inventories of those homes and sealed them....In Paris alone, about twenty requisitioning officials requisitioned more than 38,000 homes. The transportation of these homes was completed with all the available vehicles of the Union of Parisian Moving Contractors who had to provide up to 150 trucks, 1,200 to 1,500 French laborers daily."

If Your Honor pleases, I am omitting the rest of the details of that report because our French colleagues will present the details later.

Looting on such a scale seems fantastic. But I feel I must refer to another statement, for though the seizure of the contents of over 71,000 homes and their shipment to the Reich in upwards of 26,000 railroad cars is by no means a petty operation, the quantities of plundered art treasures and books and their incalculable value, as revealed in the document I am about to offer, will make these figures dwindle by comparison.

I next refer to the stacks of leather-bound volumes in front of me, to which the Justice referred in his opening statement.

These 39 volumes which are before me contain photographs of works of art secured by the Einsatzstab and are volumes which were prepared by members of the Rosenberg staff. All of these volumes bear our Number 2522-PS, and I offer them in evidence as Exhibit USA-388.

I am passing to Your Honors eight of these volumes, so that each one of you-they are all different-might see a sample of the inventory. I call Your Honors' attention to the inside cover page. Most of them have an inventory, in German, of the contents of the book; and then follow true photographs of each one of these priceless objects of art, separated by fine tissue paper.

There are 39 of these volumes that were captured by our forces when they overran a part of southern occupied German areas.

The following is a direct transcript:

THE PRESIDENT [of the tribunal]: Is there anything known about the articles photographed here?

COL. STOREY: Yes, Sir; I will describe them later. I believe each one of them is identified in addition to the inventory.

THE PRESIDENT: I meant whether the articles --the furniture or pictures themselves -- have been found.

COL. STOREY: Yes, Sir, most of them were found in an underground cavern, I believe in the southern part of Bavaria; and these books were found by our staff in connection with the group of U.S. Army people who have assembled these objects of art and are now in the process of returning them to the rightful owners. That is where we got these books.

I should like to refer, while Your Honors are looking at these, just to the aggregate totals of the different paintings. Here are the totals as shown by Document 1015(b)-PS, which is in the document book. As they are totaled, I don't think Your Honors need to follow the document; you can continue looking at the books if you like.

"Up to 15 July 1944 the following had been scientifically inventoried:

21,903 Works of Art:

  • 5,281 paintings, pastels, water colors, drawings
  • 684 miniatures, glass and enamel paintings, illuminated books and manuscripts
  • 583 sculptures, terra cottas, medallions, and plaques
  • 2,477 articles of furniture of art historical value
  • 583 textiles (tapestries, rugs, embroideries, Coptic textiles)
  • 5,825 objects of decorative art (porcelains, bronzes, faience, majolica, ceramics, jewelry, coins, art objects with precious stones)
  • 1,286 East Asiatic art works (bronzes, sculpture, porcelains, paintings, folding screens, weapons)
  • 259 art works of antiquity (sculptures, bronzes, vases, jewelry, bowls, engraved gems, terra cottas)."

The mere statement that 21,903 art works have been seized does not furnish an adequate conception of their value. I refer again to the statement in the documen,: "The extraordinary artistic and intrinsic value of the seized art works cannot be expressed in figures," and to the fact that they are objects of such an unique character that their evaluation is entirely impossible. These 39 volumes are by no means a complete catalogue. They present, at the most, pictures of about 2,500 of the art objects seized; and I ask you to imagine that this catalogue had been completed and that, in the place of 39 volumes, we had 350 to 400 volumes. In other, words, if they were prepared in inventory form as these 39 volumes, to cover all of them it would take 350 to 400 volumes.

We had arranged, Your Honor, to project just a few of these on the screen; but before we do that, which is the end of this part of the presentation, I should like to call Your Honor's attention to Document 015-PS. It is dated April 16, 1943. It is a copy of a letter from Rosenberg to Hitler. The occasion for the writing of this letter was the birthday of the Führer, to commemorate which, Rosenberg presented some folders of photographs of pictures seized by the Einsatzstab. And I imagine; although we have no authentic evidence, that probably some of these were prepared for that occasion. In the closing paragraph of the letter, Document 015-PS, Exhibit USA-387, he says:

"I beg of you, my Führer, to give me a chance during my next audience to report to you orally on the whole extent and state of this art-seizure action. I beg you to accept a short, written, preliminary report of the progress and extent of the art-seizure action, which will be used as a basis for this later oral report, and also to accept three volumes of the provisional picture catalogues which, too, show only a part of the collection at your disposal. I shall deliver further catalogues, which are now being compiled, as they are finished."

Rosenberg then closes with this touching tribute to the aesthetic, tastes of the Führer, tastes which were satisfied at the expense of a continent, and I quote:

"I shall take the liberty during the requested audience to give you, my Führer, another 20 folders of pictures with the hope that this short occupation with the beautiful things of art, which are so near to your heart, will send a ray of beauty and joy into your care-laden and revered life."

THE PRESIDENT: Will you read all the passage that you began, five lines above that, beginning with the words, "These photos represent.. .?"

COL. STOREY: "These photos represent an addition to the collection of 53 of the most valuable objects of art delivered some time ago to your collection. This folder also gives only a weak impression of the exceptional value and extent of these objects of art, seized by my service command" -- Dienststelle -- "in France and put into a safe place in the Reich."

If Your Honors please, at this time we would like to project on the screen a few of these photographs. The photographs of paintings which we are now about to project on the screen are taken from a single volume of the catalogue and are merely representative of the many volumes of pictures of similar works. The other items, photos of which are to be projected, were picked from various volumes on special subjects. For example, the Gobelin tapestry which you are about to see is merely one picture from an entire volume of tapestry illustrations. Each picture that you will see is representative of a number of volumes of similar pictures, and each volume from which these single pictures were taken represents approximately a tenth of the total number of volumes which would be necessary to illustrate all the items actually plundered by the Einsatzstab. We will now have the slides, just a few of them.

[Photographs were projected on the screen in the courtroom.]

COL. STOREY: This first picture is a Portrait of a Woman, painted by the Italian painter Palma Vecchio.

The next picture is a Portrait of a Woman by the Spanish painter Velasquez.

This picture is a Portrait of Lady Spencer by the English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds.

This picture is a painting by the French painter Watteau.

This is a painting of The Three Graces by Rubens.

This is a Portrait of an Old Woman by the famous painter Rembrandt.

This painting of a young woman is by the Dutch painter Van Dyck.

Now this picture is a sample of 16th century jewelry in gold and enamel, decorated with pearls.

This is a 17th century Gobelin tapestry.

This picture is of a Japanese painting from the catalogue volume on East Asiatic art.

This is an example of famous china.

This is a picture of a silver-inlaid Louis XIV cabinet.

The last picture is of a silver altarpiece of the 15th or 16th century, of Spanish origin.

I call to your attention again that each of the pictures you have just seen is merely representative of a large number of similar items illustrated in the 39-volume catalogue which is in itself only partially complete. There is little wonder that the Führer's occupation with these beautiful things of art, which were nearest to his heart, should have sent a ray of beauty and joy into his revered life. I doubt that any museum in the world, whether the Metropolitan in New York, the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, or the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow, could present such a catalogue as this; in fact, should they pool their treasures, the result would certainly fall short of the art collection that Germany amassed for itself, at the expense of the other nations of Europe. Never in history has a collection so great been amassed with so little scruple. It is refreshing, however, to know that the victorious Allied armies have recovered most of such treasures, principally hidden away in salt mines, tunnels, and secluded castles; and the proper governmental agencies are now in the process of restoring these priceless works of art to their rightful owners.

[Storey then proceeded to discuss Rosenberg's role within the Reichsleitung, or Party Directorate of the Leadership Corps, and the Tribunal continued.]

Return to the NARA page of the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property.

International Research: Nazi-Era Cultural Property >

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

.