Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program - Salt Mines and Castles

Salt Mines and Castles

American and Allied Forces in Europe discovered hidden caches of priceless treasures, many of which had been looted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, while others had been legitimately evacuated from German museums for safekeeping. Monuments Men oversaw the safeguarding, cataloguing, removal and packing of all works from these repositories, regardless of their origin.

In Italy, museum officials had evacuated their holdings to various countryside locations such as the Tuscan villa of Montegufoni, which housed some of the Florentine collections. As Allied Forces advanced through Italy, the German army retreated north, stealing paintings and sculptures from these repositories as they fled. As German forces neared the Austrian border, they were forced to store most of their loot in various hiding places such as a castle at Sand in Taufers and a jail cell in San Leonardo.

Beginning in late March 1945, Allied forces began discovering these hidden repositories in what would become the “greatest treasure hunt in history.” In Germany alone, U.S forces found about 1,500 repositories that contained art and cultural objects looted from institutions and individuals across Europe, as well as German and Austrian museum collections that had been evacuated for safekeeping. Soviet forces also made discoveries, such as treasures from the extraordinary Dresden Transport Museum.

Some of the repositories discovered by Monuments Men in Germany, Austria, and Italy were:

  • Berchtesgaden, Germany: The 101st Airborne Division, known as the “Screaming Eagles,” found more than 1,000 paintings and sculptures stolen by German Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. The cache had been evacuated from his country estate, Carinhall, and moved to Berchtesgaden in April 1945 to protect it from the invading Russians.
  • Bernterode, Germany: Americans found four coffins containing the remains of Germany’s greatest leaders, including those of Frederick the Great (Frederick II of Prussia) and field marshal Paul Von Hindenburg. Also found in the mine were 271 paintings, including court portraits from the Prussian Sanssouci palace in Potsdam, Germany, which had been hidden behind a locked door and a brick wall nearly five feet thick. The site was originally used as an ammunition and military supply complex manned by hundreds of slave laborers.
  • Merkers, Germany: The Kaiserode mine at Merkers was discovered by the U.S. 3rd Army under General George S. Patton in April 1945. Reichsbank gold, along with 400 paintings from the Berlin museums and numerous other crates of treasures were also discovered. More dismal discoveries included gold and personal belongings from Nazi concentration camp victims.
  • Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany: Over 6,000 items including ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, Alfred Rosenberg’s task force organized for the “legalized” looting of Jews) documents, furniture, jewelry (see Nazi gold), paintings and other belongings stolen by the ERR from private collectors in France were found here. Monuments Man Capt. James Rorimer oversaw the repository’s evacuation.
  • Altaussee, Austria: This extensive complex of salt mines served as a huge repository for art stolen by the Nazis, but it also contained holdings from Austrian collections. More than 6,500 paintings alone were discovered at Altaussee. The contents included: Belgian-owned treasures such as Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges stolen from the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, and Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece stolen from Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent; Vermeer’s The Astronomer and The Art of Painting which were to be focal points of Hitler’s Führermuseum in Linz, Austria; and paintings from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, Italy that had been stolen by the Hermann Göring Tank Division (Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring) at Monte Cassino in Italy.
  • San Leonardo, Italy: In the jail cell of this very northern town, Allied officials discovered paintings from the Uffizi that had been hurriedly unloaded by retreating German troops. Among the masterpieces were paintings by Sandro Botticelli, Filippo Lippi and Giovanni Bellini.

Read more about this topic:  Monuments, Fine Arts, And Archives Program

Famous quotes containing the words castles, salt and/or mines:

    Though castles topple on their warder’s heads,
    Though palaces and pyramids do slope
    Their heads to their foundations; though the treasure
    Of nature’s germens tumble all together,
    Even till destruction sicken—answer me
    To what I ask you.
    William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

    It is a grand thing to rise in the world. The ambition to do so is the very salt of the earth. It is the parent of all enterprise, and the cause of all improvement.
    Anthony Trollope (1815–1882)

    The humblest observer who goes to the mines sees and says that gold-digging is of the character of a lottery; the gold thus obtained is not the same thing with the wages of honest toil. But, practically, he forgets what he has seen, for he has seen only the fact, not the principle, and goes into trade there, that is, buys a ticket in what commonly proves another lottery, where the fact is not so obvious.
    Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)