A note from the past

I thought I had finished my last blog post a year ago, but it turns out that I have a few updates…

First, when I visited Neuschwanstein Castle, a local reporter named Markus Raffler interviewed me on the topic of my journey as “Monuments Girl.” Here’s the article, which appeared in the newspaper August 16, 2014.  

Monuments Girl German Article

Monuments Girl Article in Allgäuer Zeitung (German)

Monuments Girl Article in Allgäuer Zeitung (English translation)

Second, in February 2014, around the time when the “Monuments Men” movie was released, the same reporter wrote an article about the true story of hidden art at Neuschwanstein.  Below is a copy of the article in its original (German), as well as a version translated into English. (Shout out to my high school German teacher, Mary Ashcraft, who worked on both translations.)

The Treasure in Neuschwanstein Castle (German)

The Treasure in Neuschwanstein Castle (English translation)

And finally, a note from the past…

After leaving Munich, I headed straight for Ohio to visit family and reflect on my journey as “Monuments Girl.” On the last night before I was scheduled to leave, my parents and I had dinner at my aunt’s house where my grandmother, Katherine Serrell Rorimer (also known as K.K.) used to spend summers. While I was clearing dinner dishes, a pile of books on the staircase caught my eye. I paused to have a look. There was a copy of “Survival,” and underneath, was a German book entitled, “Die geraubte Kunst,” written by Kai Freimuth, all about stolen art in World War II.

(I remember when Kai visited my grandmother in the 80s. He was working on his Ph.D., and he spent several weeks interviewing her to learn about my grandfather and the MFA&A).

I picked up the book and began paging through, focusing mostly on the photographs, which were easier to understand than the German text. Just then, I noticed a small, white piece of paper sticking out. It was a note to me! I recognized my grandmother’s handwriting with the following instructions, “Sarah, read about Goslar, page 125.” My fingers flipped furiously through the book, locating the page. Sure enough, there was a section on Goslar, Germany with a two-page spread of the Kaiserpfalz, the Imperial Palace in the center of the town. The photograph showed the interior of the Great Hall piled from floor to ceiling with wooden crates and bundles of important looking papers – clear evidence of hidden art!

I ran into the kitchen to show my family,  “Look – K.K. wrote me a note!”

IMG_1969 - Version 2

I couldn’t believe the timing. My grandmother’s message had been sitting in that book for nearly two decades, just waiting to be found. Had I noticed it any earlier, it wouldn’t have meant all that much, but appearing at the end of my trip, it felt miraculous, like a seal of approval handed directly from my grandmother to me. Although the note was old, the thought was fresh, and I was finally ready to receive it.

You may be wondering about the significance of Goslar. When I was 15 years old, I spent three weeks there as part of a high school summer exchange. I remember sitting on the lawn in front of the Kaiserpfalz with my friends one evening. Little did I know, I was a stone’s throw from MFA&A wartime activities. In my grandmother’s lifetime, Goslar was perhaps the closest I came to retracing my grandfather’s footsteps. K.K. must have understood the significance of that place when she wrote me the note.

Although it took another 15+ years, as well as a bestselling book and a major motion picture for me to take an active interest in the Monuments Men, finding my grandmother’s note brought back the same strange feeling I had experienced on the steps of Neuschwanstein Castle – it was like being in a time-warp. At that moment, the linear timeline I had been following collapsed into a single point; my grandmother was long gone, but in fact, she was right there.

I couldn’t help but wonder, “If only they knew… What would K.K. think about my trip? What would my grandfather say? What kinds of journeys will my grandchildren embark upon? What will they think about me?”

Fortunately, God knows, and time will tell.


Et Fuga Verterunt Angli – And the English Fled

I’m staying in Bayeux for two nights, using this lovely town as my home base to retrace some more footsteps in Normandy.  Bayeux was the first city to be liberated by the Allied forces on June 7, 1944, and there are a number of painted murals and flags celebrating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.

D-Day WindowBayeux

I am quickly discovering that traveling solo is an excellent way to learn a language, and my functional language skills are improving.  I’ve been struck by the civilized nature of the French people, and I find their politeness incredibly refreshing. How easily I had fallen into diverting my eyes from my neighbor in the concrete jungle of NYC.

So today, I went to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which is nearly 1,000 years old.  Although it was housed in the Bayeux Cathedral for 7 centuries, it has traveled around quite a bit in recent years.

Bayeux Cathedral

Bayeux Cathedral


Impressive Gargoyles on the Bayeux Cathedral

Although my grandfather did not have direct dealings with the tapestries, he recounts several anecdotes in his book.  I’m skipping ahead chronologically to the chapter on Paris because that is where the Bayeux Tapestry was located at that time.

[Jacques] Jaujard, [General Director of the National Museums], vitiated all German attempts to effect an exchange of German objects from France for French objects in Germany… For months Jaujard delayed German efforts to acquire the Bayeux Tapestry – the 850-year-old embroidered pictoral of the conquest of England by William the Conqueror – one of Europe’s most prized art treasures. Finding it impossible to procrastinate further, he finally permitted them to copy it. The Germans subsequently insisted that the original be given up to them. A week before the arrival of the Allies a special emissary came from Berlin with instructions to bring the tapestry back with him. The resourceful Jaujard contacted the Underground to learn when the arrival of the Allied troops was expected. Hearing that it might be only a matter of days, he fought a final delaying action and succeeded in keeping the tapestry in its lead box in the sub-basement of the Louvre. (J. Rorimer, 50-51)

Here are a couple snapshots from my visit to the Bayeux Museum regarding the whereabouts of the Bayeux Tapestry during WWII.

image image

In the early days following the Liberation, security was still an important factor.  We thought then that it was safer to keep many of the cultural institutions closed.  It seemed the wisest course in view of the disorganization of the directing authorities, the continuing need for caring for objects which had been stored out of the city, and the fact that Paris had not yet been declared a leave center.  Somewhat later, however, it was decided that the vast artistic resources of Paris could be made available to the soldiers… the Louvre opened an exhibition displaying the Bayeux Tapestry for the first time in Paris since 1804, when Napoleon had shown it to his generals… Jacques Duont, the clever young Inspector of Historic Monuments, made his contribution to the scheme by bicycling the 165 miles to Bayeux to obtain the approval of the city officials for the loan of the tapestry.  An embarrassing discovery was made just as the Minister of Education arrived to greet the American, British and French officials… The last line of the explanatory inscriptions on the tapestry reads, “The English Turned in Flight.”  In the interest of inter-Allied solidarity it was hastily decided that the last scenes of the tapestry would have to be artificially concealed.  A new edition of the descriptive pamphlet omitted “In fuga verterunt Angli” altogether.  (J. Rorimer, 64-65)


Bayeux Tapestry – ET FUGA VERTERUNT ANGLI (The English Fled)

New Yorker

New Yorker Cover (July 15, 1944)

And that is the perfect segue to my next post… the Normandy Beaches!


Remembering D-Day

The toughest part about crossing the English Channel last night was 1) the air conditioning, and 2) the WiFi – NOT that they were ineffective, but that they were highly effective, and as a result I was either too cold or very distracted. This, in combination with the gentle ocean swells made things challenging at times, but I had promised myself (and my readers) that I would not complain, so every time I was tempted to think I was the least bit uncomfortable, I thought about D-Day.  What would it have been like to cross the channel in one of the boats invading Normandy? What would it have been like for my grandfather, a few weeks later, sailing with French troops? Pondering these questions helped me keep things in perspective.

D-Day was extra fresh in my mind yesterday because it turns out that Portsmouth, England (the location of my previously undisclosed location) has an excellent D-Day Museum, within walking distance of the train station. I couldn’t have planned a better use of my time in port!


D-Day Museum

D-Day Museum, Portsmouth, England

In addition, the museum houses the Overlord Embroidery, which has been dubbed the “modern version of the Bayeux Tapestry.”

Overland Tapestry

Overlord Embroidery, Panel #30, July 1944

The short film was powerful and moving, and the exhibits gave me a real sense of what day to day life must have been like for the Allies gathering in Portsmouth and Southampton. For example, here are some examples of dried goods. I wouldn’t have noticed them, except that I overheard the woman in front of me as she turned to her friend and said, “Dried eggs! I hated dried eggs! Do you remember those?”

Dried Goods

Dried Canned Goods & Wartime Recipes

The folks at the museum were very friendly, and I told them about my Monuments Girl Mission. I also showed them “The Monuments Men” movie shirt I was wearing, gave them my blog address, read aloud from my grandfather’s book “Survival,” and showed pictures from the NYC Film Premiere. I was pretty excited to find a captive audience.

Thinking all about D-Day inspired me to turn to my grandfather’s letters to see if I could figure out where he had shipped from. He didn’t include details, however, because of the censors.  According to the museum docents, it’s very likely that he sailed from Portsmouth since it was the naval base at that time.  Do any of my readers know from which port exactly a Liberty ship would have sailed?

Needless to say, my D-Day envisioning strategy worked, and I made it to St. Malo safely.


Missed the Boat

It was just two days since I had been in Southampton. When I had learned that a telephone call from the office of the American High Command had prepared the way for my arrival, I began to feel that I was part of a highly fluid, well-organized army which could adapt itself to unusual circumstances. This bubble of confidence burst when I learned that the ship on which I was supposed to make the channel crossing had already sailed. The transportation officer was out, but he had left word with his corporal to take me around and allow me to pick out any one of the Liberty ships then in port. Hoping I had made a good choice, I boarded one loaded with French troops from the Italian and African campaigns who had been sent to England for complete equipping with American supplies. I had an idea that I would like to land on French soil with French troops. (J. Rorimer, 3)

Not to worry! Although my grandfather missed the boat to France, I did not… At least not yet, since my ship sails tonight. I am taking an overnight ferry, and my accommodations include a “reclining chair” and a “sleep pack (i.e., pillow and blanket).” I am in for a 12-hour adventure, and I hope that the crossing will be smooth. If it isn’t smooth, however, I certainly won’t be able to complain, since I am traveling in peace time, I am on vacation, and I purposely chose to cross the English Channel by boat. Even the roughest ride cannot compare to the voyage undertaken by the troops bound for Normandy in summer 1944. Knowing this, I am certain that I will be just fine, as long as I make it to the dock on time!

Stay tuned… if I get WiFi on the ferry, I’ll post a picture. I’m wearing my “Monuments Men” movie T-shirt today!!!