This morning, Friday December 16th, in Munich, the Monuments Men Foundation, in conjunction with the National World War II Museum, returned to the Bavarian State Museum a 16th century Flemish tapestry that once hung in Adolf Hitler’s famed Eagle’s Nest, in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Lt. Col. Paul Danahy of the 101st Airborne removed the tapestry and sent it home as a souvenir. It hung in the stairwell of his home for years. His daughter, Cathy Hinz, inherited the object upon his death. She later decided to donate the tapestry to our country’s National World War II Museum, where I first saw it. Aware that it was cultural property, the Monuments Men Foundation, in conjunction with the Museum, researched the history of the tapestry and cleared the roadblocks for its return to the Bavarian State Museum, the beneficiary of property once owned by Hitler, Göring, and the Nazi Party.
I delivered remarks at the ceremony which I have included below along with a few photographs of this important event.
Guten Tag, meine Damen und Herren! Und vielen dank Dr. Eikelmann.
In April 1946, General Dwight Eisenhower spoke about the importance of art in our lives. His words continue to guide the work of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. Eisenhower said: “I do know that for democracy at least, there always stands beyond the materialism and destructiveness of war the ideals for which it is fought.” One of those ideals was respect for the cultural property of others.
At the end of World War II, in a break with centuries past, the Monuments Men and women of fourteen nations returned more than four million works of art and other cultural objects to the countries from which they had been stolen by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. They gathered and preserved almost one million similar objects that belonged to German museums, churches, and individuals until those museums were repaired and the Federal Republic of Germany became a reality.Without question, no country benefited more from the service of the Monuments Men than Germany.
Today, 70 years later, we are gathered to return another one of these treasures to Bavaria – a 16th century Burgundian tapestry that once hung in Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, and to thank those involved in its return.
I would like to recognize several people without whose assistance this ceremony would not have been possible. Ms. Cathy Hinz, daughter of distinguished combat veteran Lt. Col. Paul Danahy, who was committed to seeing that this tapestry was returned to its rightful owner. She is here with her husband, Bill.
Dr. Nick Mueller and the leadership of the National World War II Museum, who set the example for other museums in the United States by its swift action in working with the Monuments Men Foundation to promptly return this object. Ms. Toni Kiser, Assistant Director for Museum Collections, accompanied the tapestry on its return and is with us this morning.
Prominent art dealer Konnie Bernheimer and his family, who despite suffering greatly at the hands of the Nazis, wanted to assist the Foundation in seeing this tapestry returned to Bavaria.
Our attorney, Tom Kline, whose wise counsel, once again, guided the Foundation’s efforts.
Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Alfred Grimm and his colleagues at the Bavarian State Museum, who worked closely with Foundation staff to coordinate this ceremony. Special mentions should be made of the Art Loss Register, whose well-documented report on the history of this tapestry expedited its return, and HISTORY-Canada and More4 Television UK, sponsors of our new investigative television series, Hunting Nazi Treasure, for their financial assistance in making this return possible.
Seen against the backdrop of hundreds of thousands of still missing objects, today’s return may seem like a drop of water in an ocean of still missing items. But with the passing of the remaining World War II generation, veterans and displaced persons alike, missing objects are emerging at a far greater pace. More people of good will like Cathy Hinz are contacting the Monuments Men Foundation and seeking our assistance to return objects to their rightful owners.
Today’s ceremony is important because it is a victory for the rule of law. The return of objects to their rightful owners must be a two-way street. If we expect Germany, or any other nation, to return objects that were looted during the war to their rightful owner, then we must be equally committed to returning to Germany, or those other nations, those items that were taken from them. It is also important because each of these discoveries gives us hope that more long sought objects will emerge in the months and years ahead. This is a particularly encouraging development for museums, churches, libraries, and individuals hoping to find some of the thousands of cherished objects missing since war’s end.
This is the 20th such object that the Monuments Men Foundation has returned to the rightful owners, and the 7th such object returned to Germany including one of the Linz Albums, which the Foundation donated to the Deutsches Historiches Museum in 2010, and five paintings we returned last year, two to the Hesse family; the other three to the Anhalt Museum in Dessau. It is worth noting that none of these returns involved litigation; each was voluntary, without compensation to the donor. The Foundation charged no one for its services.
The Foundation researches the past, but we do not live in it. Our focus is locating and returning objects, and thanking those who come forward to make that possible. We want people who have these objects to contact us, without fear of criticism or punishment. By raising global awareness with our new television program, Hunting Nazi Treasure, and providing easy access to the Foundation through its toll free number, 1-866-994-4278, and email address, email@example.com, the Foundation hopes to find more objects missing from the Flak Towers in Berlin, the Pitti Palace and Bargello Museums in Florence, Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, and of course works belonging to individuals living in Europe during those painful wartime years.
In concluding his 1946 speech, General Eisenhower told the audience, “It is our privilege to pass on to the coming centuries treasures of past ages.” He could have used the word “duty,” or “obligation,” and while those words certainly describe one reason for Eisenhower’s respect for cultural treasures during World War II, they fall short of capturing the fullness of his feelings. Instead he chose the word “privilege,” which is commonly defined as “a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud.” It is our hope that these actions today will restore that same spirit of goodwill and usher in a day when we look upon these wartime restitutions not as an obligation to the past, rather as a hopeful sign for the future.