2016 Press Releases

National Archives Congratulates the Monuments Men
Press Release · Thursday, October 22, 2015

Washington, DC

Surviving Monuments Men to receive Congressional Gold Medal today

This afternoon, leaders of the U.S. House and Senate will present a Congressional Gold Medal to the Monuments Men, a group of men and women who protected and recovered historical sites and cultural artifacts during World War II. The ceremony will be live streamed from Capitol Hill, starting at 3 PM. The National Archives holds the original records of the Monuments Men. Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero and senior archivist Greg Bradsher, World War II expert, will be in attendance at the ceremony that includes House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

“The Monuments Men are most worthy of the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor the United States Congress can give,” said Archivist Ferriero. “I applaud these heroes for rescuing priceless art and cultural treasures. I also thank Robert Edsel and his Monuments Men Foundation for honoring these veterans and preserving their legacy.”

Perhaps the most unlikely heroes to emerge from World War II, the Monuments Men (and women) were a multinational group of curators, art historians, and museum directors who saved artistic and cultural treasures from destruction. Trading hushed galleries and libraries for besieged European cities, the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives Program risked their lives to protect museums, churches, and monuments from combat. They also tracked down and recovered thousands of priceless artworks stolen by the Nazis—much of it from Jewish families—and hidden in places including salt mines and abandoned castles.

The Monuments Men's Records At The National Archives

The National Archives holds millions of records created or received by the U.S. Government during and after World War II relating to the Nazi-era looted cultural assets, including the original records of the Monuments Men. These voluminous National Archives holdings document the activities and investigations of U.S. Government agencies involved in the identification and recovery of looted assets, including the Office of Strategic Services and U.S. occupation forces in Germany and Austria. The materials also include contain captured German records about looted art, including the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) card file and related photographs.

So-called “Hitler Albums” of Looted Art at the National Archives

Created by the staff of a special Nazi task force, the ERR, the so-called “Hitler Albums” document the unprecedented and systematic looting of European art by the Nazis, a story recently brought to the screen by George Clooney in The Monuments Men film. The ERR was the main Nazi agency engaged in art looting in Nazi-occupied countries. As the ERR looted, photographed, and catalogued French collections, they created albums, including the one being donated. Each page of the album shows a photograph of one stolen item.

After the war, the U.S. Army discovered 39 of these albums and turned them over to the Monuments Men for use in identifying art work to be restituted. These volumes, in the holdings of the National Archives, served as evidence in the Nuremburg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations. Until recently, it was believed that the missing ERR albums had been destroyed. Thanks to the Monuments Men Foundation, founded by Robert Edsel, four additional albums have been recovered and donated to the National Archives.

Featured Prologue Story and Blogs on The Monuments Men

Dr. Greg Bradsher, a senior archivist and World War II expert, and author of Holocaust-Era Assets: A Finding Aid to Records at the National Archives at College Park, MD, tells one story of the Monuments National Archives’ Prologue magazine Bradsher shares the fascinating story of how U.S. soldiers found a cache of treasures, and called in the Monuments Men for help. The find included four caskets—with the remains of Frederick the Great, Frederick William I, and President Paul von Hindenberg and his wife.

Related display

Last chance to see Japanese Surrender Document on display in Washington, DC
National Archives East Rotunda Gallery, through October 28, 2015

On September 2, 1945, in a formal ceremony aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan, representatives of the Japanese government signed the Instrument of Surrender, officially ending World War II. The document was presented to President Harry S. Truman at the on September 7, 1945, exhibited at the National Archives and then formally accessioned into its holdings.

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