And Then There Were Three: The Passing of Monuments Man Rouben Sami
Certainly the greatest privilege of my work these past sixteen years has been meeting the Monuments Men and Women and the friendships that evolved with them and their families. In the fall of 2014, one of the Monuments Men Foundation researchers learned that Rouben Sami, who served as Deputy Director of the Offenbach Collecting Point, was alive and well. A week later, I was sitting in the kitchen of his South Florida home visiting with Rouben, his wife, Lena, and daughter, Renee. Like other World War II veterans I’ve been privileged to know, Rouben demurred when I tried to explain the importance of what he and his fellow Monuments Men had accomplished
At war’s end, the Monuments Men discovered millions of stolen items including millions of
rare books and religious objects. The task of determining the rightful owners was wrought with difficulty made even more challenging by work that required fluency in fifteen or more languages. The Offenbach Collecting Point, one of three sorting centers established by the Monuments Men, housed approximately 2.5 million looted books and manuscripts, some 600 Torah scrolls, and the contents of the Rothschild Library, making it the largest collection of Jewish cultural property in the world. Rouben’s fluency in Hebrew and organizational skills as a civil engineer were much needed assets to the Director of Offenbach, Monuments Officer Captain Isaac Bencowitz.
Rouben’s post-war work in Germany contributed greatly to the proper return of these cherished objects and helped ensure that ownerless assets – once the property of synagogues destroyed by the Nazis and individuals they had murdered – would find new places of worship to preserve these irreplaceable treasures of past ages. One such object – a rare photo album documenting his work at Offenbach – resides at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, courtesy of a gift from the Monuments Men Foundation.
Rouben lived 97 wonderful years. We extend our condolences to his remaining family members. With his passing, only three Monuments Men and Women are still living.