The Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives Section (MFAA) during World War II:

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower inspects stolen artwork in the Merkers salt mines. Behind Eisenhower are General Omar N. Bradley (left), CG of the 12th Army Group, and (right) LT Gen George S. Patton, Jr, CG, 3rd U.S. Army.

In 1943, the Allied Armies created the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, otherwise known as the MFAA or “The Monuments Men”.  These men and women worked to protect the cultural treasures of Europe and to return them to their rightful owners at the end of the war.  While the MFAA also served in Japan, this pathfinder is dedicated to their service in the European Theater, as is the forthcoming movie.

Book: Edsel, Robert and Bret Witter. The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure in History. New York: Center Street Publishing, 2009.

This book is the inspiration for the George Clooney production, to be released this summer.  Edsel and Witter follow the Monuments Men for the chaotic period between the landings at Normandy and the surrender of the Third Reich.

Book: Edsel, Robert. Rescuing Da Vinci: Hitler and the Nazis Stole Europe’s Great Art: America and Her Allies Recovered It.  Dallas: Laurel Publishing, 2006.

Compiled as a visual companion to the book above, Rescuing da Vinci includes 460 photographs of Nazi art museums, Monuments Men, and the cultural treasures they saved.

Book: Edsel, Robert. Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2013.

Edsel returns to his favorite subject, the MFAA.  While his previous works focused on Nazi plunder in northern Europe, this book turns the spotlight on Italy and the efforts of the Monuments Men as retreating Nazis took whatever they could.

Website: The Monuments Men website: news, stories, biographies, blog (

This companion site to Edsel’s book also provides primary sources related to the MFAA, including photos, maps, and paperwork from both the Allies and the Nazis.

Book: Kurtz, Michael. America and the Return of Nazi Contraband: The Recovery of Europe’s Cultural Treasures. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Kurtz’ focus is on the repatriation of art following V-E day.  After the greatest upheaval and dislocation of cultural treasures in world history, the occupying powers struggled to return art to its rightful home.

Website: American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (RG 239)

Established by FDR in 1943, the Roberts Commission attempted to grasp and cope with the enormous scale of cultural restitution during the final year of the war in Europe and after.  At this site, NARA provides online records from microfilm.



Art Repatriation and Restitution in World War II:


MFAA member searching a Nazi cache of Torah scrolls.

Repatriation is not a new concept, but is one that may never be as big of an issue as it was following the end of World War II. In the context of this pathfinder, repatriation refers to the returning and/ or restitution of art work that was stolen by Nazi forces during the Second World War. The resources here allow researchers to grasp the efforts made by the Monuments Men to locate and return cultural items to their countries of origin and individual pieces to their rightful owners. Numerous foundations also allow researchers to identify those who might be eligible for restitution and detailed histories of artifacts that have been recovered and their current status.

Website: The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art (

The official website of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation for the Arts. This site gives a very concise overview of the foundations goals of preserving the legacy of the Monuments Men. Included in the site are are well formed categories with bulleted lists detailing the objectives of the foundation. Digital photos, videos, and documents of original documents recovered by the Monuments Men can be found on the website as well.

Book: Muller, Melissa and Monika Tatzkow. Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice. New York : Vendome Press, 2010.

The book chronicles the lives of a few prominent Jewish people during World War II whose art collections were seized by Nazis, and their struggle for restitution.

Website: Commission for Art Recovery (

A website for the Commission for Art Recovery. A rich site that enables anyone to use their resources to aid in finding and returning art stolen by Nazi forces during World War II. The site is easily searched through the top menu bar that allows the user to search by case, projects, resources, or bibliographies.

Website: Project Heart: The Holocaust Era Restitution Taskforce (

A site self-proclaimed to be the Holocaust Restitution Task Force. This site’s purpose is to identify those who are victims of Nazi art theft during World War II and reconnect them with stolen property. This is an international site as it is offered in twenty six languages. The site is set up to answer inquiries as to eligibility for their aid in recovering art and/or restitution.

Databases: Smithsonian: Provenance in the World War II Era 1933-1945 (

This specific page offers articles from a Smithsonian Institution database concerning lost art during World War II. The articles are arranged primarily alphabetically by country with a complete title. Some of the articles are available in other languages than English.

Website: National Archives Holocaust Era Assets (

This page of the National Archives and Records Administration main website consists of a photo gallery of Holocaust-Era Assets microfilms as well as a finding aid dedicated to the looting, location, and recovery of cultural as well as monetary items taken from all over the European Theatre of World War II.

Website: Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the U.S.: (

The website of an organization designed to paint the most complete picture of the art that was stolen by Nazis during World War II. It also attempts to identify those whom the items belonged to by providing a list of links to register to apply as a person deserving of restitution or repatriation.

Archival Papers: Colonel Seymour J. Pomerenze papers from the American Jewish Historical Society

The papers of Colonel Seymour Jacob Pomrenze (1916-2011) contain materials relating to his role as the first director of the Offenbach Archival Depot (OAD) in early 1946, which worked to return confiscated Jewish religious cultural objects to their former owners.

Related Stories about Art and Theft during World War II:

The Crown of Charlemagne, stolen by the Nazis, was recovered by MFAA man Dr. Walter Horn after the War ended,

The Crown of Charlemagne, stolen by the Nazis, was recovered by MFAA man Dr. Walter Horn after the War ended.

Adolf Hitler was an aspiring painter before forming the National Socialist Party, and once he became the Fuhrer, he used his political power to dictate the aesthetic taste of his party and country through art theft, collaboration with artists, and destruction of works he deemed ‘degenerate.’ The following resources describe the relationship of the Nazis to aesthetic culture.  

Book, Documentary, and Website: Nicholas, Lynn. The Rape of Europa: the Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Knopf, 1994. Print.   documentary: The Rape of Europa. dir. Bonnie Cohen. Menemsha Films, 2008. DVD.    website:

Independent researcher Lynn Nicholas’s work predates The Monuments Men by more than a decade and retells the story of the MFAA. However, Nicholas begins her account at the beginning of Hitler’s rise to power and discusses how and why the Nazis stole art, recounts victim’s stories, and documents efforts put forth by other participants in the war to protect and recover cultural property, and the impact of its loss. The documentary retells the story in film with interviews and primary source photographs. While primarily a commercial venture, the accompanying website also provides updates on the recovery and restitution of stolen artworks, a timeline of the war, and many original photographs.

Book:  Kirkpatrick, Sidney. Hitler’s Holy Relics: A True Story of Nazi Plunder and the Race to Recover the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Sidney Kirkpatrick retells the true story of how Hitler stole the Crown Jewels of Charlemagne and the Spear of Destiny (a lance said to have pierced the side of Jesus Christ as he was being crucified) from Austria, his intent to employ them in his quest to create a Fourth Reich, and how a member of the MFAA, Dr. Walter Horn, eventually located the relics after the close of World War II.

Book: Charney, Noah. Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010.

Art Historian Noah Charney recounts the theft of the famous Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck (also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) from Belgium in WWII and numerous other times throughout history, and how it was recovered.

Book: Riding, Alan. And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi Occupied Paris. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Former European correspondent for the New York Times, Alan Riding discusses the cultural impact that Nazi occupation had on the citizens and artists of France, from writers, like Jean-Paul Sartre, to painters, such as Pablo Picasso, and ultimately examines the morality of creativity during wartime.

Book: Petropoulos,Jonathan. Art as Politics in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Historian Jonathan Petropoulos examines Hitler’s aesthetic policy and how art was used to articulate the tenets of Nazi ideology and legitimize his rule. Also discusses the contents of Nazi leaders’ private collections, and how this art reflected the hierarchy of the party.

Book: Petropoulos, Jonathan. The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Historian Jonathan Petropoulos discusses why some artists chose to collaborate with the Nazis and the effect that choice had on their careers. Also examines the aesthetic policies of the Third Reich and its subsequent impact on art produced during Hitler’s reign.