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.


The Führerbau and the Munich Collecting Point

It was in the summer of 1921 that I first visited Munich with my father, who had been there in the 90’s, like many another American, to continue his education. He knew the city intimately and he loved its people and their way of life. Association with Bavarian friends and institutions afforded him something of the understanding that broadens the vision and opens the mind to an appreciation of other peoples’ culture. Visiting my father’s old haunts and meeting the friends who had colored his youthful studies left me with a feeling of lasting warmth. This first visit and a half dozen subsequent ones gave me an appreciation of Munich’s gardens, her museums of science and industry, and her food and beer, all of which offered pleasant foils to long hours spent in art museums and galleries rivaling those of Berlin.

The Munich to which I returned on May 7th, 1945, a few days after its capture by Seventh Army, held few reminders for me. The familiar green-topped towers of the Frauenkirche looked down on almost complete destruction. There was no longer any individuality; the rubble, the debris, the almost complete ruin, had a dreadful encompassing similarity. The Residenz, formerly the Bavarian Royal Palace, incorporating four centuries of celebrated architecture with grandiose interiors and housing artistic treasures of great distinction, was badly burned and shattered. Floors had collapsed and works of art which had not been moved to safe-keeping were completely destroyed or in almost hopeless condition… The Nazi official buildings, notably the Führerbau and the Verwaltungsbau, had suffered less because of elaborate camoflage systems and adequately manned fire fighting equipment.

The Führerbau was on the list Rose Valland had given me of repositories in Germany containing French art. This was Hitler’s Munich headquarters. The connecting building was the Party Administration building, the Verwaltungsbau der NSDAP. It was here that Hitler had made his selecitons, and it was the interim storehouse for objects to be deposited in the mine at Alt Ausee pending their eventual placement in his prospective museum in Linz…

I recommended the use of the Führerbau and the Verwaltungsbau as a central collecting point for the works of art looted by the Nazis, and requested that an MFA & A officer be sent to take charge. There were no other buildings in Bavaria so well suited to housing the Goering Collection, the Rosenberg and Hitler confiscations, and other looted items. Lieutenant (USNR) Craig Smyth arrived in Munich shortly thereafter, on June 4th, to take charge of the buildings and the myriad details which attended such an operation (J. Rorimer, 216-219).

On my last morning in Munich, I was invited to visit the central administration of the Bavarian Department of State-owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes which is located at Nymphenburg Palace, about 30 minutes from the center of the city. It was a real treat to tour the palace and learn more about role of the Administration of Bavarian Castles in saving works of art during World War II. I also got to see the Marstallmuseum, a fabulous collection of royal carriages and sleighs housed in the former stables building. After my visit, I noticed a photograph of the Residenz Carriage Museum and Stables in my grandfather’s book. In 1941, the objects were moved from the Residenz in the center of Munich to their current location at Nymphenburg Palace. The photo below shows the result of the 1944 air raids on the Residenz Carriage Museum and Stables. It’s a very good thing that these spectacular objects were safeguarded.

For additional reading, see Robert Edsel’s blog on “The Establishment of the Munich Collecting Point”

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!