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!”

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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.

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Things I learned as “Monuments Girl”

I write this final blog post from home, having returned stateside, leaving behind the grand European environs. It feels bittersweet to say goodbye to my Monuments Girl mission, tracing my grandfather’s footsteps and living life fully in the present, while focusing on puzzles of the past. I was just getting used to the rhythm of traveling by train, using my phrasebook, searching for WiFi, and making connections in unexpected places. At the same time, returning home to family never felt so good; it means so much to be able to share my new insights with loved ones. History normally seems so distant from modern life as a millennial.

It turns out that this trip was way bigger than the story of me and my grandfather. My personal connection to a piece of history became a window into much larger spheres. My journey became all about bridging gaps between generations, making peace between nations, understanding history, and realizing the interconnectedness of all people. It’s inspiring to think about the impact one individual can make, and how each one of us can make a difference, no matter what our field of expertise may be.

Out of all the things my grandfather wrote in “Survival,” by far my favorite is the statement he made having arrived in Germany in the spring of 1945. It bears the imprint of his strong moral backbone, his modus operandi. “The value of works of art to civilization is not limited by national boundaries” (J. Rorimer 137). It’s incredible that my grandfather was able to maintain this standpoint, in spite of the gruesome wartime conditions and the military groupthink at the time. Not only did he understand what things were, he also understood what they meant to individuals, to nations, and to the future history of civilizations. His legacy encourages us to look to the present and ask ourselves honestly if we are learning from the past or allowing history to repeat itself.

For a long time, I felt sad knowing that my grandfather died so young, in the midst of a grand career. It seemed that his family and everyone who knew him had been deprived of so much goodness. Now, I understand how fortunate he was to be able to return from war alive and well, to share his story by writing a book, and to re-establish civilian life with a loving family and a thrilling career. So many people never even had a chance to tell their stories after World War II. This fact has brought a newfound sense of gratitude: a sense of peace that washes away the pain of the past. Although I never met my grandfather in person, I can say that I feel I know him well now.

I’ll close with a quote from Cue Magazine in which my grandfather summarizes his wartime experiences.

Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and connecting in such meaningful ways during the last two weeks. It has been an incredible journey, and it would not have been nearly as rich, if it hadn’t been for you – my audience. Thank you so much for joining me!

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Munich Residenz & Treasury

...[T]hirty reporters and newsreel men representing the world’s Press came to the castle [Neuschwanstein] to catch a glimpse of the phenomenal treasure house. I had not attempted a search for individual works of art. As far as I was concerned, this was an intelligence and security operation until such time as the bulk of the things could be returned to the French nation. I would have liked nothing better than to take the time to study all of these objects. It would have been particularly rewarding to go through part of the Munich Schatzkammer (Treasury) which had been brought to Neuschwanstein by the Administration of Bavarian Castles. I doubt if the ERR knew it was there. One of the old Bavarian keepers of the castle had confided to me that access to these treasures was hidden behind the stove in the kitchen (J. Rorimer, 191).

Objects from the Treasury in Munich

Objects from the Treasury in Munich

My grandfather’s reference to the Munich Residenz and Treasury made it an obvious destination for me. Plus, who can resist the allure of the such beautiful gold, diamond and pearl-embedded objects! When I met with the current-day representatives of the Administration of Bavarian Castles (Bavarian Department of State-owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes), they recounted another story about the beloved Munich Treasury. It is said that two days before my grandfather arrived at Neuschwanstein, the objects were removed from behind the stove and relocated to another secret location. It is a very good thing that the individuals working for the Administration of Bavarian Castles had the foresight to keep these treasures safe, and it’s amazing to think that thanks to their work, the treasury is in tact and on display for the public to see. Check it out the next time you’re in Munich!

http://www.residenz-muenchen.de/englisch/treasury/pic11.htm

Spotted in Paris

Although I’ve mentioned this before, I must reiterate the fact that being in France during the last week or so has been extra meaningful because of the timing.

When I planned this trip, I wasn’t really aware of the way my dates lined up to position my travels exactly 70 years after D-Day, the Liberation of Paris, and my grandfather’s landing in Normandy. Not only have I have come across many unexpected connections to the 70th anniversary, but also, since the general populace is aware of the historical significance of this time, people have been all the more responsive when I have approached them out of the blue.

Below are some photos of things I spotted in Paris over the past 5 days.  They all connect in some way or another with WWII or my grandfather or adventures fact-finding. I can definitely relate to the following quote from my grandfather’s chapter on Paris. “In the early days of September I chased around the city like a tourist who has but a few days to see Paris.” (J. Rorimer 55). I was that tourist!

The Crypt Under St. Sulpice

The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies buildings…would require a visit. There were rumors that the former had suffered seriously and that there had been a fire in the library of the latter which had caused untold damage. These buildings were not under the protection of the Administration of Fine Arts, but were supervised by their own individual staffs. On the way out to the Luxembourg Palace, which houses the Senate, I asked my French driver where all the bronze statues were which had dotted the city’s streets. “Melted down by the Boche,” he replied. At the entrance to the Senate grounds Carpeaux’s memorable bronze figures, Four Quarters of the World supporting a globe, were not in their fountain basin. It was beginning to appear that none of these historic bronze monuments for which Paris was renowned had escaped German melting pots.

Senate Building, 2014

Senate Building, 2014

Luxembourg Gardens, 2014

Medici Fountain, Luxembourg Gardens, 2014

Later I obtained a list of the monuments which were taken by the Germans to make instruments of war. It was a relief to find that the Carpeaux figures were not on the list. These along with some of the other better sculptures had been hidden by the French in stone quarries and in the strongly vaulted subterranean passageways of churches such as St. Sulpice (J. Rorimer, 57-58).

Having read my grandfather’s description, naturally, I was curious about the “subterranean passageways.” It was time to investigate St. Sulpice. My friend navigated, and we found our way to a bench on the plaza just outside the church. Prior to entering, she asked me what I hoped to accomplish during this visit. Feeling buoyed up from our morning meeting with Madame L. (see my post entitled “You took my sister, I’m taking your apartment”), I stated my mission with confidence, “I want to go inside and see what the church looks like and if possible have a look underground.” We climbed up the steps and entered the church of St. Sulpice.

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St. Sulpice, 2014

It turns out St. Sulpice is famous for three murals painted by Delacroix, but I was so focused on my mission that I forgot to take note of the art. Instead, we searched for someone to talk to. My friend, whose French is better than mine, spotted a valuable clue on a bulletin board – an announcement for tours of the crypt. The dates did not align. It was Monday and the next tour was not until Sunday. But tours of the crypt did exist!

In the vestry, we found an old lady seated behind a small, wooden desk. She invited us to sit down and I explained that I was retracing my grandfather’s path during World War II. She listened intently, touching her hand to her heart. When I finished, she made copies of my picture post-card, my grandfather’s book, and “The Monuments Men” book business card. Then, she turned to the priest and showed him the passage in the book that mentioned St. Sulpice. After examining the page, he agreed to let us see the crypt. My friend and I exchanged gleeful glances. The lady motioned for us to gather our things, as she negotiated with a caretaker standing nearby. It sounded as if she said, “Oh, just show them around a little bit.” The caretaker looked as if he would prefer not to be bothered, but he jangled his keys and led us downstairs to the basement anyway. I couldn’t believe we were getting a special tour, but there was no time to celebrate. I got out my camera and followed the man.

The underground vaults were expansive. Here and there, I saw a few sculptures and remnants of colonnades, but mostly the crypt was empty. The man unlocked two gates and led us further underground, into the dark. We followed closely behind. I was just about to use the flashlight app on my iPhone, when he flipped on a light switch. All I could say was “très intéressant.” Casually, he lit a match and began smoking a cigarette. Then he pointed to a water faucet. He turned it on, and after a short delay, we heard the sound of water falling hitting the ground many feet below. The caverns were deep!

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The Crypt

I imagined the spaces filled with the grand public statues from the Senate building. At what point did the Parisians decide to move art into the crypt? How did they transport it? How full were the caverns? There were so many questions I wished I could ask, but instead I had to use my imagination. I snapped a few photos and we returned upstairs to the vestry. We thanked the reluctant caretaker, the priest and the old lady profusely, then bade them farewell practicing the few French words we definitely knew, “Merci Madame! Au revoir Monsieur!”

Once again, I was amazed by the way this mission had connected me with people in such unexpected and meaningful ways. Their willingness to listen and subsequent outpouring of kindness was incredible. Our mutual understanding crossed through time, space and language barriers.

N.B. No. 1: Nowadays, Carpeaux’s Four Quarters of the World can be found in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. I didn’t get a chance to see them this time, so I’ll have to return another time.

Carpeaux's Four Quarters of the World, Musée D'Orsay

Carpeaux’s Four Quarters of the World, Musée D’Orsay

N.B. No. 2: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City just held an exhibition dedicated to Carpeaux a few months ago. I made a point of going because I had just read this passage in “Survival,” and I wanted to know who Carpeaux was!

http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2014/carpeaux

 

 

Rose Valland, Spy at the Jeu de Paume

The one person who above all others enabled us to track down the official Nazi art looters and to engage intelligently in that aspect of the whole picture was Mademoiselle Rose Valland, a rugged, painstaking and deliberate scholar. This girl was an assistant at the Jeu de Paume when the Germans arrived and converted the building into the central clearing house for the finest of the confiscated works of art. She told me that judging from what she personally had observed, the Germans had taken one-third of the privately owned art from France. Throughout the war, and in the absence of the director, she stayed at her post in the museum. Time and time again the Germans tried to discourage her presence. She was led to the door with a frequency that bordered on the comic; but each time she disregarded their orders and returned to the museum. Her blind devotion to French art made no allowance for any thoughts of personal danger (J. Rorimer, 109).

…At night she would sneak out the negatives which the Germans had developed during the day. She had prints made and then returned the negatives to the files the following morning. With imprisonment in a concentration camp, or death, the penalty if she were caught, she had been fortunate. Even the watchman’s logbook, which had the names of all the visitors to the Jeu de Paume for more than a four-year period, had come into her possession (J. Rorimer 111).

Rose Valland knew “where…the works of art that were removed to Germany [had] been secreted” and she shared her information with my grandfather and the SHAEF Mission to France (J. Rorimer 114).

“You must go to Germany, James,” she said. “I’ll join you as soon as I can, but you must go right away”…”[T]he Nazis have collected and catalogued their booty…In the castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau” (J. Rorimer 112, 114).

Before I go to Germany tomorrow, allow me to recount my experiences retracing the footsteps of Rose Valland in Paris.

For me, the obvious first step was to inspect the outside of the Jeu de Paume.  The building is located on the Place de la Concorde, at the edge of the Tuileries Gardens. There, I found the following plaque, dedicated to Rose Valland. (I welcome my readers to translate this plaque by responding to this post in a comment)!

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I figured that if there was a plaque dedicated to Rose Valland, surely the museum folks inside would know something about her story. So, I entered the museum, approached the ticket booth, and began my prepared dialogue in French.

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I did my Monuments Girl spiel, showing the picture post-card with my grandfather’s image, then my grandfather’s book, next a copy of “The Monuments Men,” and finally my blog business card. The cashier informed me that the building is now a private gallery devoted to contemporary photography, and she directed me to the museum book shop.  The librarian at the book shop showed me Rose Valland’s memoir and another book of her complete notes, both in French. Then, almost as an afterthought, he pointed out a children’s picture book in French entitled, “Rose Valland, l’espionne du musée du Jeu de Paume.”  At the bottom, I read, “L’HISTOIRE EN IMAGES.” I was elated! It was the perfect reading level for me with my beginning French skills! I paged through the book looking for a cartoon character of my grandfather.  He wasn’t there, but I did find an equally exciting part, a two-page spread of the German soldiers captured in the courtyard of the Louvre! I knew that scene already from reading my grandfather’s account! (See my previous post on “The Liberation of Paris). I didn’t hesitate to make my purchase.

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Source: Rose Valland, l'espionne du musée du Jeu de Paume

Source: Rose Valland, l’espionne du musée du Jeu de Paume, p. 72-73

To round out the heroic story of Rose Valland, fast forward to 1955, the year my grandfather was appointed as the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Below is the congratulatory letter he received from Valland.  (If you can’t read French, there is an English translation provided below). My favorite part is Valland’s reference to “justice,” since so many of my grandfather’s wartime letters mention his struggle with the military hierarchy and trying to get things done being ranked as a 2nd Lieutenant.

James J. Rorimer Records, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives

James J. Rorimer Records, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives

Translation of Rose Valland's letter

Ten-ton Trucks in the Tuileries

Here is an anecdote in my grandfather’s words from his chapter entitled, “Paris Monuments Officer.”  Over the last few days, I got to know the Tuileries and the Esplanade des Invalides through walking, biking and picnicing.

Every day thousands of men and women walk across the serene paths of the Tuileries Gardens – perhaps to catch a bus, to take the metro, to ride the trams to the banlieu, or to walk to their homes. Since the days of the last French kings these gardens have belonged to the public, and generations have relaxed here. They retain the same general aspect as Le Nôtre’s plans for Louis XIV (1664). The terraces, trees, fountains and sculpture offer serenity in the presence of beauty. No one who has strolled through these gardens which connect the Palace of the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, or looked up the Champs-Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower, can fail to feel the significance of this cherished park. Its gardens mean more in historic association and daily convenience to Parisians than do Hyde Park to Londoners and Central Park to New Yorkers. I protested vigorously when it was recommended that the Tuileries be made a bivouac area for the service troops for whom it was becoming increasingly difficult to find accomodations… I was determined that the Tuileries should not be subjected to slit-trench latrines and the other defacing necessities of an encampment… I made myself vociferous and decidedly unpopular in their defence.

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Tuileries Gardens, 2014

An unsatisfactory compromise was reached without my knowledge: the Tuileries would be used as the official Allied motor park for all the jeeps and ten-ton trucks plying their way from the ports through Paris to the front. In a short time half a dozen historic statues were damaged by the heavy trucks, the terra cotta pipes sagged under the unaccustomed weight of these vehicles, and the old trees were injured. I suggested that the large open area of the Esplanade des Invalides be used instead of the Tuileries as the motor park. After many meetings with both American and French officials, at which we argued the case until I almost had to give in, it was fortunately agreed to use the Esplanade rather than the Tuileries as the motor park (J. Rorimer, 63).

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Esplanade des Invalides, 2014