Art Looting Investigation Unit Reports

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Reports by the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) relating to jewels, paintings, and other art objects appropriated during WWII.

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Description

The images in this collection are digitized from the NARA microfilm publication, M1782. They include Detailed Interrogation Reports, Consolidated Interrogation Reports, and the Final Report of the Office of Strategic Service’s (OSS) Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU). The ALIU distributed copies of these documents to numerous government agencies. In order to produce the highest quality microfilm image, the best physical copy of each report was selected for inclusion in M1782. These copies are contained within two agencies’ records.

Descriptions of the Roberts Commission, the OSS, and the Office of Naval Intelligence follow a discussion of the ALIU and its records below. Further information about the ALIU and the Record Groups in which the reports and related information are contained can be found in Holocaust-Era Assets: A Finding Aid to Records at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, compiled by Greg Bradsher (see link under related resources below).

Note: Much of the content on this page is taken from the descriptive pamphlet published by NARA for this title. Choose the following link to download a PDF version of the pamphlet: M1782, OSS Art Looting Investigation Unit Reports, 1945-46.

Look below under "Related resources" for links to archival descriptions in NARA's online Archival Research Catalog (ARC).

Document types

These printed reports were created and published during 1945 and 1946. They are arranged here by type of report and primary focus of each report:

Activity of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg in France, August 1945
Activity of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg in France – Index
The Goering Collection, September 1945
Linz: Hitler’s Museum and Library, December 1945
Linz: Hitler’s Museum and Library – Supplement, January 1946
Linz: Hitler’s Museum and Library – Index

Heinrich Hoffman, July 1945
Ernst Buchner, July 1945
Robert Scholz, August 1945
Gustav Rochlitz, August 1945
Gunther Schiedlausky, August 1945
Bruno Lohse, August 1945
Gisela Limberger, September 1945
Walter Andreas Hofer, September 1945
Karl Kress, August 1945
Walter Bornheim, September 1945
Herman Voss, September 1945
Karl Haberstock, May 1946

Within the DIR and the CIR, the records are arranged by report number. Three reports, Detailed Interrogation Report No. 13 and Consolidated Interrogation Reports 1 and 4, include indexes. Consolidated Interrogation Report Number 4 also includes a Supplement.

Background of the ALIU

In 1944, before the Allied invasion of Europe, Justice Owen J. Roberts (chairman of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas-The Roberts Commission) met with Brig. Gen. William J. Donovan of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and requested that a special intelligence unit dealing with looted art be formed and administered by the OSS. Roberts envisioned that this unit would assist both his Commission and the U.S. Army’s Museum, Fine Arts & Archives officers. Both were involved in the identification and recovery of looted cultural property.

Donovan agreed to the creation of an art looting investigation unit under the OSS. An inter-branch directive dated November 21, 1944, authorized it. The Art Looting Investigation Unit’s mission was set forth in the directive, in part, as follows:

It will be the primary mission of the Art Looting Investigation Unit to collect and disseminate such information bearing on the looting, confiscation and transfer by the enemy of art properties in Europe, and on individuals or organizations involved in such operations or transactions, as will be of direct aid to the United States agencies empowered to effect restitution of such properties and prosecution of war criminals.

The ALIU was established at a time when it had become apparent that the Germans intended to proceed with plans for subversive action after the cessation of hostilities, and were making arrangements for a supply of funds during the post-hostilities period. Various sorts of treasure, in the form of items of small bulk but great value (e.g., jewels, paintings, objets d’art), which could be converted into money, had been stolen or otherwise acquired and were being secretly stored in various places in Europe.

The ALIU was placed under the direction of the London office of the OSS X-2 (or Counter Intelligence) Branch, which was primarily interested in those attempting to dispose of art. The Branch sought these individuals as sources of information on current and future enemy activities and plans, and because it believed that certain Nazi agents would be using art-confiscation activities to conceal their true roles as espionage agents. The unit was appropriately given the code name Project Orion because they were truly hunters. The Roberts Commission asked Francis Henry Taylor, then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, to select fine arts professionals for the ALIU in whom he had confidence and who would be most adaptable to the required work. Taylor asked James S. Plaut, who had served in the Office of Naval Intelligence since 1942, to become director of the ALIU. Theodore Rousseau--on staff at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, prior to the war and serving as United States naval attaché in Spain and Portugal during the hostilities--was named the ALIU operations officer. S. Lane Faison, Jr., professor of fine arts at Williams College, was detached from his naval station and joined the unit in 1945.

Taylor also secured detachment from the U.S. Army of two other professionals: Charles Sawyer, director of the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover and the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, and John Phillips, curator of the Mabel Brady Garvan Collections and professor at Yale University. Sawyer served as the ALIU liaison officer in Washington; Phillips ran the London office. Somewhat later, Otto Wittman, who after the war became director of the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio, joined the unit. In all, the ALIU had 10 personnel: 4 commissioned officers, 3 enlisted men, and 3 civilians.

The Washington headquarters had primary responsibility for the administration of the Unit, maintenance of its permanent records, procurement and training of personnel, and integration of field activities. In addition, it maintained direct liaison with the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (Roberts Commission); the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Branch of the Civil Affairs Division, G-5, War Department; the Economic Security Controls Division of the State Department; the Foreign Economic Administration; the Captured Materials and Personnel Branch, G-2, War Department; and, the Foreign Funds Control, Treasury Department. The unit maintained an active liaison with the Roberts Commission throughout the war and in the immediate postwar period.

Field headquarters was established in London in January 1945. The London office assumed responsibility for the planning of all field operations, the reception and collation of material submitted by field representatives and the transmission of such material, and the maintenance of the operational files of the project. It maintained direct liaison with the following allied agencies: the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Branches of G-5, SHAEF, USFET, U.S. Group Control Commission (Germany), G-5 AFHQ, Allied Control Commission (Italy), G-5 U.S. Forces (Austria), and the British Element (Control Commission, Germany); the U.S. Chief of Counsel (Nuernberg); the Economic Warfare Division (U.S. Embassy, London); the Ministry of Economic Warfare; the Commission de Recuperation Artistique (France); the Netherlands Ryjksbureau voor de Monumentenzord; the British Committee on Preservation and Restitution of Works of Art, Archives, and Other Material in Enemy Hands (Macmillan Committee); and, the Interallied Commission for Protection and Restitution of Cultural Material (Vaucher Gros Commission).

Field Operations of Art Looting Investigation Unit

From January 15, 1945, through V-E Day, the London Unit compiled a master file comprising information on over 2,000 individuals believed to have participated in art looting. Close liaison was established and maintained with British, Dutch, and French officials working on the same problem. The ALIU’s London office became the central repository and clearinghouse for all information in Allied hands on this subject. Immediately after V-E Day, the Unit issued to all Allied intelligence teams on the Continent, a “high priority” personnel target list carrying the names of 21 individuals considered to be the most prominent figures involved in the German operations and wanted urgently for interrogation and subsequent prosecution.

Iberian Penninsula

Late in January 1945, the ALIU Operations Officer initiated an investigation of German-owned property present in Spain and Portugal. This operation continued intermittently through May 8, 1945, and included the highly detailed interrogation of the art holdings of Alois Miedl, a German banker, speculator, and financial agent of Hermann Goering. With the intervention of the U.S. and Dutch diplomatic missions in Madrid, the Operations Officer secured the permission of the Spanish Government to examine personally the 22 works of art placed in Miedl’s name in the Free Port of Bilbao. The Miedl case became the keystone in subsequent investigations by the Unit of German art looting in Holland. The Miedl-owned paintings were sequestered by the Spanish Government and placed at the disposition of the Dutch Minister as a result of information presented by the Operations Officer to the Spanish Government. The ALIU was, however, unable to achieve the extradition of Miedl.

Italy

The Director of the Unit proceeded to Italy on March 10, 1945, to conduct a survey of art looting in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, and to supervise the interrogation, at Rome, of Wilhelm Mohnen, German espionage agent and minor participant in German official art looting activities in France. The detailed interrogation of Mohnen revealed little new information concerning German art looting but was chiefly productive for broad intelligence purposes.

The Italian operation continued through May 1, 1945. The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) Branch of Allied Forces Headquarters and of the Allied Control Commission thoroughly investigated looting in Italy. Liaison was established with these agencies, and the Director of the Unit advised MFA&A officers on outstanding problems.

Subsequent to V-E Day, the Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) requested that the ALIU dispatch one of its members to Italy to interrogate leading members of the German Kunstschutz (The German Commission for the Protection of Works of Art in the Occupied Countries under direction of the German Army High Command) who had been captured in the fighting in the North. Because of the Unit’s impending operation in Germany, a member of the parallel British unit undertook this mission at the suggestion of the Director.

France

Contact with the French authorities was initially made in Paris in early June 1945. The Unit made available to the French Government all information gained during the German operation and from other sources bearing on German art looting in France and affecting French interests. The Operations Officer maintained close liaison from September 1945 through February 1946 with representatives of the Commission de Recuperation Artistique, the Ministry of Justice, and the French intelligence agencies and acted as informal technical advisor to the French Government in art looting problems.

The ALIU was directly responsible for the return of art to French custody. The Unit also played a central role in delivering several Germans involved in art looting to French authorities.

Switzerland

The ALIU conducted investigations in Switzerland from November 20, 1945, through January 10, 1946, under the aegis of the Economic Counselor to the American Legation at Bern. The chief problem under consideration was the flow to Switzerland, and the concealment there, of artworks looted by the Germans in the occupied countries. The Director and the Operations Officer interrogated German and Swiss nationals who had been active in the official German interest. The ALIU also worked with U.S. diplomats in endeavoring to persuade the Swiss Federal Government to make available to the Allies all information bearing on the subject. Pertinent information gained in the course of the German operation was presented to the Swiss federal political department for use of the federal customs and Office of Compensation. The detailed results of the Swiss operation are incorporated in State Department Safehaven Reports No. 148, December 9, 1945, and No. 229, January 5, 1946.

Field Operations of Art Looting Investigation Unit in Germany

Germany

Three members of the Unit, James Plaut, Theodore Rousseau, and Lane Faison, with the help of Dutch Army Intelligence officer Captain Jan Vlug, proceeded to Germany on May 20, 1945. They interrogated enemy art looting personnel captured after the submission of the Unit’s high priority list to field intelligence agencies. The Unit received authority from G-5, Headquarters, 12th Army Group, to proceed to the 3rd U.S. Army area. Once there, ALIU staff served as technical advisers to the Judge Advocate, 3rd U.S. Army, which--on behalf of the Judge Advocate (War Crimes), 12th Army Group--was conducting an investigation of German art looting.

On June 10, 1945, the ALIU established a special interrogation center at Alt Aussee, Austria, in conjunction with the Judge Advocate, 3rd U.S. Army, and operated there from that date through October 1, 1945, under joint command. Subsequently, the ALIU continued to use this location to conduct its interrogations until the spring of 1946.

At Alt Aussee, in close proximity to the salt mine where the greatest concentration of Nazi plunder from Western Europe was concealed, Plaut, Rousseau, and Faison divided their work so that each would report upon one of the most important looting programs. Rousseau was responsible for the investigation of the Goering Collection. Faison was responsible for investigating the activities of the planners of the projected Fuhremuseum at Linz, Austria. Plaut was responsible for investigating the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the Nazi looting organization in France under Alfred Rosenberg.

While at Alt Aussee, MFA&A officers and others brought leading participants in Nazi art looting operations, suspects, and informants to the ALIU for interrogation. Plaut and Rousseau personally apprehended Gustav Rochlitz, one of Goering’s chief art procurers, who had taken refuge in a nearby village. They drove him to Paris, where he was detained by the French authorities.

Individuals were detained for varying periods. Karl Haberstock, for example, was detained for 36 days. Some of those interrogated were more cooperative than others. Karl Haberstock, the most active and successful German art dealer during the war, was relatively cooperative. Walter Andreas Hofer, director of the Goering Collection and his chief purchasing agent, seemed to remember every transaction, and provided details of certain of them with ease while avoiding those that revealed his own venality. Kajetan Muehlmann, the chief figure in the organized German looting of art of Poland and the Netherlands, twice attempted to escape and initially responded with contempt. However, he eventually talked a great deal. Bruno Lohse, a Munich art dealer, had served as executive officer of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in Paris. His knowledge was encyclopedic, and, hoping to please his captors, he held back nothing. Equally responsive was Gisela Limberger, Goering’s secre-tary, who, while professing her own innocence, became a fountainhead of incriminating information. As the Nuremberg trials drew near, Rousseau interrogated Goering in prison.

The ALIU work at Alt Aussee clarified the nature of the looting process and identified the whereabouts of countless masterpieces. Its work also contributed to the Nuremberg trials. The ALIU recommended that certain individuals be tried as war criminals. Haberstock’s information was so damaging to the Nazi leaders that the Americans decided to send him to Nuremberg to testify at the war crimes trials. There he became a key witness with respect to art plundering.

The primary work product of the ALIU was its Final Report, 3 Consolidated Interrogation Reports, and 12 Detailed Interrogation Reports--reproduced here. Certain other reports were contemplated but not produced. One was to be Consolidated Report No. 3 on German methods of acquisition. However, the ALIU did not compile this report, as stated in the Final Report, due to serious limitations in time and personnel. A Detailed Interrogation Report No. 8 on Kajetan Muehlmann, the chief figure in the organized German looting of art of Poland and the Netherlands, was also contemplated. He was interrogated by the ALIU in Austria during August 1945. Subsequent participation in the interrogations by Capt. Jan Vlug, Royal Netherlands Army, made advisable a collaborative U.S.–Dutch report. Dutch publication of this report, incorporating documentation and information from the ALIU, was still pending when the ALIU issued its Final Report. A Detailed Interrogation Report No. 14 on the topic of Maria Dietrich was planned. It was not issued, but a full accounting of her activities was incorporated into Consolidated Report No. 4. Also envisioned was a Detailed Interrogation Report No. 15 on Rose Bauer, Muehlmann’s secretary. This report, likewise, was not issued.

Related Resources

Recovery of Holocaust-era Assets pages on the NARA website: www.archives.gov/research/arc/topics/holocaust

Holocaust-Era Assets: A Finding Aid to Records at the National Archives at College Park, compiled by Greg Bradsher, includes many resources in its bibliography. www.archives.gov/research/holocaust/finding-aid

If you wish to view the archival descriptions in NARA's online Archival Research Catalog (ARC), follow the links here:

Acronyms and abbreviations

AFHQ:  Allied Forces Headquarters
ALIU: Art Looting Investigation Unit
COMINCH:  Headquarters, Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet
ERR:  Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg
G-2:  G-2 Division – Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF)
G-5:  G-5 Division – Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF)
MFA&A:  Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Branch
ONI:  Office of Naval Intelligence
OSS:  Office of Strategic Services
OSS X-2:  Counter Intelligence Branch of OSS
SHAEF: Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force
USFET: U.S. Forces European Theater

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WWII OSS Art Looting Investigation Reports

Source

These images are digitized from one single roll of NARA microfilm publication, M1782, OSS Art Looting Investigation Unit Reports, 1945-46.

  • The Detailed Interrogation Reports (DIR) are contained in Detailed Interrogation Reports, 1945–1946, within the records of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (also known as the Roberts Commission) (Record Group [RG] 239, Entry 74-A1).
  • The Consolidated Interrogation Reports are contained in the Office of Naval Intelligence record series Formerly Confidential Reports of Naval Attachés, 1940–1946 (in the Records of the Chief of Naval Operations, RG 38, Entry 98A-NM63).
  • The Index to Consolidated Interrogation Report Number 4, however, is contained in Consolidated Interrogation Reports, 1945 (RG 239, Entry 75-A1).
  • The Final Report is contained in the ALIU Subject File, 1940–1946, of RG 239 (Entry 73-A1).

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