Wednesday, 7 November 2018

American Art Appropriations at End of World War Two: Wiesbaden Manifesto

When we listen to American collectors suggesting that looted artworks from the Old World be given 'safe haven' in the US, we should think back to November 7th 1945. On this day the programme involving the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) organization was in full swing. It was engaged in the protection of European monuments from destruction, and after the war the location and recovery of items hidden by the Nazis. The Monuments Men found over 1,050 repositories located in Germany and Austria at the end of World War II. In the East, there were other such caches being found - and some that seem never to have been found (see the legends of the Nazi Gold train discussed here earlier). A central collecting point was set up in 1945 in Wiesbaden (under the command of Capt. Walter Farmer). It gathered artworks and antiquities from evacuated and looted museum collections, materials from the Reichsbank and Nazi looted Polish liturgical collections. At its height, Wiesbaden stored, identified, and restituted approximately 700,000 individual objects, including paintings and sculptures. At some statage the order came from the US that Capt Farmer send to the U.S. 202 German-owned paintings in his custody. Faced with this order, the Captain and the 35 others who were in charge of the Wiesbaden collection point gathered to draw up what has become known as the Wiesbaden Manifesto on November 7, 1945. This stated:
 "We wish to state that, from our own knowledge, no historical grievance will rankle so long or be the cause of so much justified bitterness as the removal for any reason of a part of the heritage of any nation even if that heritage may be interpreted as a prize of war." 
Only after three years of debate did U.S. President Harry S. Truman order that the paintings be returned to Germany in 1948.  Farmer died in 1996 

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