The following background information is taken directly from the descriptive pamphlet published by NARA for this title, M1944.*
The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, also known as the Roberts Commission, was established by Presidential approval on August 20, 1943. It operated until June 30, 1946. Commission members worked with the U.S. military, museum officials, art historians, and international commissions to protect European art, monuments, institutions, and records of cultural value from war-related damage or theft. In addition, the Commission aided in the restitution of public and private property appropriated by the Nazis and their collaborators.
The idea of establishing the Roberts Commission grew out of discussions among American educators and museum officials about the potentially dangerous impact of the European war on historic works of art and artifacts. In the fall of 1942, the American Defense–Harvard Group, established by a group of Harvard University faculty two years earlier, began working with the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) to devise plans for protecting cultural property in European areas that would soon be occupied by Allied military forces. Representatives of these groups plus officials of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art approached Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone, who was also a National Gallery of Art board member, with a proposal for a Federal commission that would protect and restitute Nazi-looted art.
After discussing the matter with Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Chief Justice Stone wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in December 1942 to solicit his support. In April 1943, the President responded to Justice Stone that he had discussed the proposal with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the commission would need to work closely with the U.S. military. By June, specialist officers at the School of Military Government in Charlottesville, VA, were being trained to locate and protect works of artistic and historic significance in war zones.
On June 23, 1943, President Roosevelt approved the creation of a Federal commission to assist the U.S. Army in protecting cultural property in Allied-occupied areas and to formulate restitution principles and procedures. Two months later, the State Department announced the official establishment of the Commission, under the chairmanship of Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts. A budget of $25,000 was allocated from the President’s emergency fund to cover clerical and travel expenses during the first year of the Roberts Commission’s existence. Thereafter, Congress made appropriations to the Commission as an independent executive agency. To facilitate contact with the Departments of War and State, the Commission’s headquarters was located in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. A Roberts Commission office was established in the American Embassy in London from April 1944 to October 1945. All members were appointed for three-year terms and served without compensation.