Monuments Men

Nefertiti, 1951, unknown Photographer

Monuments Men

"The history of our house in particular clearly shows us the value and importance of preserving cultural assets for the community, but also for each individual. We pay particular attention to cultural property that has been unlawfully seized, which must be returned to the rightful owners wherever possible."

Dr. Jörg Daur
Deputy Director, Custos of modern and contemporary art

Central Collecting Point
at Museum Wiesbaden

The Wiesbaden Museum experienced a chequered history during the Second World War and in the years that followed. From 1935 to 1945, under the direction of Hermann Voss, the museum entered its darkest period. Voss was the special commissioner for a "Führer Museum" in Linz planned by the National Socialists, and during his tenure he acquired numerous high-calibre paintings that have recently had to be investigated to determine their rightful provenance or are still being investigated. After the end of the war, the building became the "Central Collecting Point" of the American troops as a collection point for art treasures from Berlin hidden in mines - including, for example, the bust of Nefertiti (Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection in the Neues Museum) or the Man with the Gold Helmet from Rembrandt's circle (Gemäldegalerie), but also a central location for the restitution of cultural assets seized by Nazi persecution. Organised by the "Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section", 345 art protection officers, the "Monuments Men" and "Monuments Women" were entrusted with the task of protecting and preserving the cultural treasures in destroyed post-war Germany.

Wiesbaden Manifesto

On 7 November 1945, US officers protested the removal of over 200 important works of art from German museums to the United States with the Wiesbaden Manifesto.

U.S. FORCES, EUROPEAN THEATER GERMANY


1. We, the undersigned, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Specialist Officers of the Armed Forces of the United States, wish to make known our convictions regarding the transportation to the United States of works of art, the property of German institutions or nationals, for purposes of protective custody.

2. a. We are unanimously agreed that the transportation of these works of art, undertaken by the United States Army, upon direction from the highest national authority, establishes a precedent which is neithermorally tenable nor trustworthy.

b. Since the beginning of United States participation in the war, it has been the declared policy of the Allied Forces, so far as military necessity would permit, to protect and preserve from deterioration consequent upon the processes of war, all monuments, documents or other objects of historic, artistic, cultural or archaeological value. The war is at an end, and no doctrine of »military necessity« can now be invoked for the further protection of the objects to be moved, for the reason that depots and personnel, both fully competent for their protection, have been inaugurated and are functioning.

c. The Allied Nations are at present preparing to prosecute individuals for the crime of sequestering, under the pretext of
»protective custody«, the cultural treasures of German-occupied countries. A major part of the indictment follows upon the reasoning that even though these individuals were acting under military orders, the dictates of a higher ethical law made encumbent upon them to refuse to take part in, or countenance, the fulfillment of these orders. We, the undersigned, feel it is our duty to point out that, though as members of the Armed Forces we will carry out the orders we receive, we are thus put before any candid eyes as no less culpable than those whoseprosecution we affect to sanction.

3. We wish to state that from our own knowledge, no historical grievance will rankle so long, or be the cause of so much justified bitterness, as the removal, for any reason, of a part of the heritage of any nation, even if that heritage may be interpreted as a prize of war. And though this removal may be done with every intention of altruism, we are none the less convinced that it is our duty, individually and collectively, to protest against it, and that though our obligations are to the nation to which we owe allegiance, there are yet further obligation to common justice, decency and the establishment of the power of right, not of expediency or might, among civilized nations.


Farmer u.a.: Wiesbadener Manifest (1945), kommentiert von Tanja Bernsau und Elisabeth Furtwängler, in: Translocations. Anthologie: Eine Sammlung kommentierter Quellentexte zu Kulturgutverlagerungen seit der Antike, 2020.

"History to touch!"

The "Sonic Memory" project, funded as part of the cultural promotion programme „Hessen kulturell neu eröffnen“, honours the work of this special unit of the US Army with an outdoor listening station in front of the Wiesbaden Museum. With the help of a hand crank, visitors can generate their own electricity and listen to six audio tracks in German and English.

The audio tracks tell the story of the Central Collecting Point, its first director Walter Ings Farmer and the "Wiesbaden Manifesto" he initiated, as well as the topic of provenance research and restitution. In addition, a historical sound recording of Monuments Man Kenneth Lindsay talking about the bust of Nefertiti from the collections of the National Museums in Berlin is even heard from the station, and a piece reports on one of the directors of the Collecting Point.


„Wiesbaden Manifesto“ (germand)
Nofretete — interview with Kenneth Lindsay (english)
Photos: Museum Wiesbaden / Bernd Fickert
Photos: Museum Wiesbaden / Bernd Fickert

The project was realised by Jürgen Czwienk, author and director, the Museum Wiesbaden with the support of the Freunde des Museums Wiesbaden e.V., the Wiesbaden art studio Sonic Memory - Outdoor Hörstationen and the Monuments Men Foundation Dallas, TX. Czwienk has already set up similar listening stations in commemoration of historical events or personalities, including for example in front of the German National Library in Frankfurt and Leipzig or the Stadtpalais in Stuttgart. More stations are planned, including at the New Orleans National WWII Museum.

MuWi-Tips

Literature

Dr. Tanja Bernsau, Wiesbaden, wrote her doctoral thesis on the Monuments Men and the Collecting Point at the Landesmuseum Wiesbaden:

Tanja Bernsau (Hrsg.)
Die Besatzer als Kuratoren? Der Central Collecting Point Wiesbaden als Drehscheibe für einen Wiederaufbau der Museumslandschaft nach 1945
640 Seiten
Münster: LIT Verlag, 2013
zugl. Univ., Diss., Mainz 2013
ISBN 978-3-643-12355-8
64,90 Euro

Movie

George Clooney and Matt Damon as Monuments Men — watch the official trailer!

Mouments Men an Women Museum Network

In 2021, the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art (MMF) launched the Mouments Men an Women Museum Network. The network has been particularly well received in the United States, including the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Isabella Steward Gardner, the Toledo Museum of Art and the Kimbell.

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