In my desire to give you, my Fuehrer, some joy for your birthday I take the liberty to present to you a folder containing photos of some of the most valuable paintings which my special purpose staff [Einsatzstab], in compliance with your order, secured from ownerless Jewish art collections in the occupied western territories. These photos represent an addition to the collection of 53 of the most valuable objects of art delivered some time ago to your collection. This folder also shows only a small percentage of the exceptional value and extent of these objects of art, seized by my service command [Dienststelle] in France, and put into a safe place on the Reich.
I beg of you, my Fuehrer, to give me a chance during my next audience to report to you orally on the whole extent and scope of this art seizure action. I beg you to accept a short written intermediate report of the progress and extent of the art seizure action which will be used as a basis for this later oral report, and also accept 3 copies of the temporary picture catalogues which, too, only show part of the collection you own. I shall deliver further catalogues which are now being compiled, when they are finished. I shall take the liberty during the requested audience to give you. my Fuehrer, another 20 folders of pictures, with the hope that this short occupation with the beautiful things of art which are nearest to your heart will send a ray of beauty and joy into your revered life.
-Heil, my Fuehrer
The seizure action began in compliance with the Fuehrer order of 17 Sept 1940. At first those art collections were seized which the Jews, fleeing from occupied territories, left behind in Paris. The seizure action was extended to all remaining cities and villages of the occupied French territory where it was thought that Jewish art collections might be hidden. By using all possible ways and means we discovered and seized all Jewish art collections which were hidden either in Jewish homes in Paris, in castles in the provinces or in warehouses and other storage places. The seizure action vas in part very difficult and tedious and, up to now, not all completed. The escaped Jews knew how to camouflage the hiding places of these objects of art, and to find them was made more difficult by the Frenchmen originally charged with the administration of the hiding places. The special purpose staff [Einsatzstab] in connection with the security police [Sicherheitsdienst-SD], the squad for the protection of the foreign currency market [Devisenschutzkommando] and by using their own ingenuity succeeded in securing the main part of art collections, left behind by the escaped Jews, and bringing it safely to the Reich. The most important part of the action was the securing of 79 collections of well-known Jewish art collectors in France- he list of collections is attached hereto. Top place on the list is taken by the famous collections of the Jewish family of Rothschild The difficulty of the seizure action is shown by the fact that the Rothschild collections were distributed over various places in Paris, in Bordeaux and in the Loire castles of the Rothschilds and could only be found after a long and tedious search. Although the action covered the past 2 years, we discovered and secured, through the use of trusted agents, quite a large part of the Rothschild collection in 1942.
Besides the seizure of these complete Jewish art collections, we also searched all vacant Jewish apartments in Paris and other places for single art objects which might have been left behind. The main job in this action was to ascertain all addresses of Jews. escaped from the occupied territories, since we had to overcome quite a few difficulties on the part of the French police force which naturally tried their best to retard our progress. During this search through hundreds of single Jewish apartments a large amount of art objects were secured.
These in this manner secured collections and single pieces of art were transferred to central collecting points in Paris, located in the so-called Jeu de Paume and rooms of the Louvre. The art expert of the special purpose staff inventoried, photographed and packed all secured objects of art. Taking the inventory was made more difficult by the fact that all data pertaining to the collection were suppressed by the former owners. For this reason each art object had to he examined separately for origin, place where found, and period. The work is so designed that at its conclusion the finished inventory will represent an unimpeachable document as far as the historical background of the art collection is concerned It will show, on one side, the monetary, and on the other, the historical value. The Jewish owners and collectors only judged these collections by their material value. Consequently they did not recognize the historical value and therefore showed no inclination to make these collections available for research. However, this research has now been accomplished by the sorely understaffed special purpose staff. All their findings were incorporated into 3 temporary books which will serve as basis for one catalogue soon to be compiled.
During the time from 17 Sept 1940 to 7 April 1943, 10 transports of 92 cars or a total of 2775 crates were sent to Germany. The contents of the crates were: paintings, antique furniture, Gobelins, objects of art, etc. Besides all this another special transport of 53 art objects was shipped to the Fuehrerbau in Muenchen, and 594 pieces (paintings, plastics, furniture, textiles) delivered to Reichs Marshal [Goering].
Castle Neuschwanstein was designated as the first shelter. After this castle was filled, the Bavarian administration for state-owned castles and parks saw fit to relinquish several rooms in the castle Herrenchiemsee for further shipments.
Since these 2 shelters were not enough and since the Bavarian administration could not supply any more we rented 2 more in the neighborhood; it was made possible through the intervention of the State Treasurer [Reichsschatzmeister]. We rented several rooms in the former Salesianer monastery at Buxheim near Memmingen in Schwaben and the privately owned castle Kogl near Voecklabruck at Upper Austria [Oberdonau]. The location and condition of these 2 shelters is such that they are perfect in regards to safety against air attack and fire, and can easily be guarded. All art objects are so divided between the 4 shelters that it is possible to continue the inventory and care, and that no large collections of valuable art objects will be concentrated in any one place. All measures for safety are taken care of by the combined efforts of: 1. the Bavarian administration for castles and parks, 2. the central control of the fire prevention police, and 3. the local representatives of State and Party. In this way the highest degree of safety has been achieved.
9455 articles in the aforementioned shelters have been completely inventoried, as of 1 April 1943. The inventory is as follows:
|1372||Pieces antique furniture|
|2224||Small objects of art, including East-Asiatic art.|
The inventory in addition to records of seizure and lists of seizure and transport, follows the pattern of the enclosed file card [Karteikarte]. On this file card is noted all information necessary to characterize all objects as to origin, master, technique, time, etc. These file cards together with the extended explanations of the men charged with taking the inventory constitute the basis for the editing of the master catalogue. Besides this there is in preparation a photo-library in one of the central offices in Berlin, as well as in Neuschwanstein. Since the number of technicians was small, the time short, and the necessity of a quick expert from Paris was paramount, only the most valuable objects were inventoried in Paris. Therefore the inventory has to be continued in the shelters. According to the latest count there are approximately 10,000 more objects to be inventoried.
At present there are 400 crates in Paris, ready for shipment which will be sent to the Reich as soon as necessary preliminary work in Paris is completed. Should the present 4 shelters not prove sufficient for consequent shipments, 2 more places, namely the castle Bruck near Linz and the camp Seisenegg near Amstetten on the lower Danube have been prepared.
For reasons of fire prevention all art objects in the shelters had to be unpacked skillfully. These measures were also necessary to accomplish the inventory and to continue with the care of the valuable art objects. Restoration has begun since many needed it when we acquired them. At present a repair shop with all necessary tools is being outfitted in Fuessen in which all paintings pieces of furniture and other objects will be restored, to safeguard preservation. The unpacking, the continuation of the inventory, and the establishment of the photo-library, and too, the editing of the master catalogue, will take considerable time.
The action of seizure [Fassungaktion] in Paris and occupied Western territories will be continued, although on a reduced scale, since there are still new art objects of great value to be found. The administration of the East not only will seize furniture, but also the art objects which might yet be found there. Here too valuable art objects were found in the last months. These art objects, found during the collection of furniture, were also sent to the shelters and will receive the same treatment as the others. Besides these objects, whose art value is established, hundreds of modern French paintings were seized which from the German standpoint are without value as far as the national-socialist art conception is concerned. These works of modern French painters will be listed separately, for a later decision as to their disposition.
On orders from the Reichs Marshal some of the works of modern and degenerate French art were exchanged in Paris for paints of known value. The exchange was of great advantage to us, Since we received 87 works by Italian, Dutch and German masters who are known to be of great value. We shall continue to trade whenever a chance presents itself. At the completion of the action a proposal as to the disposition of the modern and degenerate French paintings will be presented.