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”

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.


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!


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!



Welcome to my travel blog!

In exactly one month, I will be embarking on a 2-week mission to retrace the footsteps of my grandfather, Monuments Man, James J. Rorimer.

I was originally inspired to make this journey back in 2009 when Robert M. Edsel published his bestselling book “The Monuments Men.” Inside the front cover there was a map with a detailed route of my grandfather’s path during World War II. Everything was already mapped out! It was a trip begging to be taken! Then, in February 2014, with the release of the major motion picture and a heightened sense of awareness about the importance of this previously untold story, I decided that it was time to begin my own research project, as Monuments Girl!

The purpose of this trip is to learn about my family history and also to gain a deeper understanding of world history and what has been coined as, “the greatest treasure hunt on earth.” It is my hope that seeing and experiencing these places in person will make history come alive.

My primary sources will be Robert Edsel’s book “The Monuments Men,” Lynn Nicholas’ book “The Rape of Europa,” James J. Rorimer’s book “Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War,” and wartime letters written by my grandfather.

Come, follow me! Let’s discover this story together!