Monuments Men rescued archives, too!

Monuments Men

Monuments Man Capt. Isaac Bencowitz of the Offenbach Archival Depot.
From the collections of Yad Vashem.

As an archivist, I’m keenly interested in the Monuments Men and their work to save the cultural heritage of the West, including archives.

Too often, their work with archives, libraries, and non-art museums are minimized or forgotten entirely. It puzzles me that the public and even scholarly fascination with them is so rooted in art, when their work was so much broader than this.  Perhaps art is more accessible. After all, we can all acknowledge the importance of a Michelangelo, Rembrandt, or Vermeer. Certainly, when it comes to the movies, art is going to be more glamorous and photogenic than stacks of books or manuscripts. But the rescue of ancient Torah scrolls or Egyptian papyri must be at least equal in their importance.

I hope that one day I’ll have an opportunity to further explore the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives (MFA&A) work to rescue archives, and in particular, the operations at the Offenbach Archival Depot. Back in 1999, I did some initial, somewhat theoretical work on the use and abuse of European records during World War II, which featured some cameo roles by the Monuments Men. But the access to research sources then, compared to what they are now, is vastly different. Plus, my intent with that article was not so much to focus on the Monuments Men, but rather to look at how both sides interacted with records during the war, and what became of the records.

In the meantime, there are some outstanding resources now posted online, which can serve as a starting point for the exploration of the Monuments Men work with archives:

Series of articles profiling individual Monuments Men at the Text Message, a National Archives blog.

More articles about the National Archives and the Monuments Men (both real and in the movie), featured in the Prologue blog “Pieces of History” from the National Archives.

New exhibit at the Archives of American Art, including digital images and oral histories!

Photograph albums of the Offenbach Archival Depot (Album #1) and (Album #2) from the Yad Vashem archives in Israel.

Guide to the Offenbach Archival Depot collection at University of Chicago.

Guide to the Ardelia Hall Collection, Offenbach Archival Depot, records at the National Archives.

Personal Reminiscences of the Offenbach Archival Depot, 1946-1949” by Col. Seymour J. Pomrenze, from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Guide to the Col. Seymour J. Pomrenze Papers at the American Jewish Historical Society

Cultural Looting: The Seizure of Archives and Libraries by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg …” by Martin Dean of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Guide from the National Archives to February 2013 events and other resources related to the release of the movie, “The Monuments Men”.

University of Wisconsin – Madison ‘s connection to the Monuments Men as found at  UW Library News, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Flickr and Tumblr