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Building Hermann Göring’s Art Collection
[“Recovering Hidden Primary Resources:
Harnessing the power of new technologies for a new generation of History scholarship,”
American Historical Association 2002 Meeting,
We know Hermann Goering as Prime Minister to
Three important characteristics of Goering included his strong desire to possess art pieces, no matter the medium, and he went to no limits to add to his collection. Second was his great desire for wealth, a surprising trait for a man who had unlimited financial means and resources at his disposal and a trait that went against Nazi ideology. No matter the amount of money, he always bargained to obtain the lowest sale price. He did not like parting with his money. Last, Göring wanted to maintain the appearance of “correctness” and not display any item that had been confiscated. Yet this proved to be hypocritical on his part. Göring loved displayed his art in his home, Carin Hall, calling himself a Renaissance man.
The hidden resource:
In November 1944, The Roberts Commission formed an Art Looting Investigation
Unit (ALIU) with the financial assistance of the Office of Strategic Services.
These fine art professionals hired were tasked to collect and disseminate information
regarding the confiscation and transfer by the enemy art properties in
What developed from the series of interrogations regarding Goring and his collection was the “Consolidated Interrogation Report No. 2, The Goring Collection.” Theodore Rousseau, Jr. authored CIR in September 1945 shows that Goering laid out magnificent, detailed plans to cloak the truth of his looting efforts, and to fulfill a quest of acquiring great pieces. The ALIU report shows that Goring was ruthless and devious, stole prized collections, and paid for his acquisitions dishonestly, if he paid at all. The interrogation report shows endless examples of corruption, and for the Germans to rationalize their actions: they were only protecting the art, and they were simply following orders. In his report, Rousseau’s analysis of Goering and his collection “dispels any illusion which might remain about goring as the ‘best’ of the Nazis. In this, the one pursuit in which he might have shown himself to be in fact a different type of man, he was the prototype of all the worst in National Socialism. He was cruel, grasping, deceitful and hypocritical, well suited to take his place with Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and the rest.” (CIR No. 1, p. 176.)
Origin and character of the Göring collection
During the interwar period, and after the Nazis came to power in
Germany, Goering and Hitler planned two large art collections, one for Hitler’s
museum in Linz, Austria, the other the Hermann Goering Collection, to later
be presented to the German nation. As many were fleeing Nazi Germany, and the
Nazis banned the exportation of paper money, others began to turn their investments
into art that by 1939 could be taken out of
Goering collected on a large scale. In the mid-1930s, Goring indulged himself in collecting outlandish items including rare animals and toy trains. Other acquisitions included Roman architectural fragments to modern German paintings, tapestries, objets d’art, and jewelry, with his tastes leaning towards female nudes, portraits, and large altarpieces. By 1937, Göring’s art collection and operations became more organized through the professional services of Walter Andres Hofer.
Hofer, a German art dealer, became Director of the Reichsmarschall’s collection
and Goering’s chief confidential operator. Hofer is responsible for many of
the confiscation and looting methods used, and due to his influence, Goering’s
art collection assumed its form. According to Hofer, once he was ordered to
begin acquiring for this museum, there was a so-called finders-keepers agreement
between the Fuhrer and the Reichsmarschall. Hofer was also under the impression
that funds for purchasing came from the state. Fräulein Gisela Limberger was
Goering’s private secretary and kept the records of the Goering Collection.
Bruno Lohse, Deputy Director of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg in
The first rounds of Nazi confiscations began in
Personnel working with and for Göring
Walter Andreas Hofer began his career as a small
Walter Bornheim, art dealer and Director of the Galerie für Alte
Hofer’s main duties included the cataloging, storage, and transporting of each
item acquired, and the Goering Collection’s then form owes largely to Hofer.
He also kept the collection’s records in a meticulous manner: recording amount
paid for each picture, ornament, sculpture or piece of furniture; market value
of piece; what the piece was sold or exchanged for. Hofer relied heavily upon
others to build the Reichsmarschall’s collection such as Sepp Angerer whose
specialty were rugs and tapestries and used confiscated degenerate art to obtain
pieces. Kajetan Mühlmann plundered
Another dichotomy of Goering was his personal interest in his staff’s work. Appearing expansive and friendly in his manner to his employees, Goering basically distrusted everyone, not taking any one person into his confidence, and by war’s end, had all of his activities under his direct control. There was a verbal rule among the ERR civilian staff that no one held conversations about their employment and duties outside of what was necessary. By creating this feeling of distrust, Goering felt comfortable that no one on his staff would turn against him. Instead, and found during interrogations, the staff disliked each other and had the tendency to gossip. Limberger accused Hofer of concealing art transactions from her. Hofer accused Lohse for trying to take away the Director’s position. Miedl accused Hofer of turning him over to the Gestapo.
Goering made use of representatives in the occupied territories outside of
Operations: exchanges and sales
From the beginning Goering considered confiscated property as a
main source for his Collection. Approximately fifty percent of his collection
consist of works of art from “enemies of the Reich,” with the ERR alone supply
over 700 objects. “Goering’s attitude towards confiscations was characteristic.
He fought shy of crude, undisguised looting; but he wanted the works of art,
and so he took them, always managing to find a way of giving at least the appearance
of honesty, by a token payment or promise thereof to the confiscation authorities.
Although he and his agents never had an official connection with the German
confiscation organizations, they nevertheless used them to the fullest extent
possible.” The routine for acquiring materials, especially in
Important parts of the Collection are gifts to the Reichsmarschall from friends
and other important Nazis. These gifts can be analogous to purchases. Purchases
were the most important aspect of the Goering Collection yet there were no established
procedures for making such payments. Hofer was encouraged by Goering to take
over, or in the documentation, “to purchase” already confiscated collections
Since Goering preferred to receive art works as presents, he also concerned himself with these gifts suiting his tastes and fitting in with the current holdings. “When [Goering] visited dealers in different countries, he picked out first the objects which he wanted to acquire immediately, and then what one might call a reserve, which was paid for but left in the hands of Hofer, Bergheim, or Angerer. Later, when prominent Nazis wished to give him a present, they consulted Gritzbach, who put them in touch with one of the dealers from whom they could buy a work of art for the Reichsmarschall, feeling confident that it would find favor, since he had already chosen it himself…. These gifts simply represented a credit to the Goering Kunstfond (Art Fund), into which the payments were deposited.” (Report.)
The Italian market was also vulnerable to confiscations by the
Germans with Goering’s agents making the majority of the purchases.
Exchanges were used as one of the most important significant aspect
of forming Goering’s collection. Goering considered property taken, or confiscated,
by the Nazi government as ideological reasons to be his own, and to dispose
of as he saw fit. Goering would also resort to any trick or bribe in order
to get exactly what he wanted. Once these exchanges were completed and each
identified of those collaborators outside of
Goering sold many artworks from his collection even though he had access to unlimited funds. Fischer encouraged him on several occasions to go through with the sale working through Haberstock in order to make a profit. Some of the objects that Goering sold at auction or on the general market generally were obtained through his confiscation group, for example items for the Dutch Goudstikker Collection were made available on the open market.
In his financial dealings, Goering, as a businessman, was hardheaded and scrupulous. He acquired just about everything he wanted but would only pay the lowest possible price; he never failed to bargain and often purchased second-rate objects due to the low selling price. In addition, he kept his dealings in art matters a secret in order to maintain the appearance of “correctness.” He signed all payments personally, and he ordered the strictest of discretion from his staff. Only Hofer and Frau Limberger knew some of the details of Goering’s account books. The general accounts were separated into three funds: private, separate, and military. The private contained Goering’s personal fortune from his salaries and estates, and used the monies for him and his family’s personal expenses. The separate fund supported large receptions and business functions. The military fund covered Goering’s expenses as Reichsmarschall, and his Special Train. The Kunstfond, the art fund with an average balance of two million Reich marks, was used for all of the expenses of acquiring and maintaining his art collection. The Kunstfond was directly under Goering’s authority, with Frau Limberger keeping the records, and he took full advantage of his position by freezing accounts consisting of artworks that he desired. He continued to solicit and accept bribes from industrialists to replenish his beloved Kunstfond.
Goering’s use and abuse of different currencies is an important
aspect of his selling and purchasing operation. “He took advantage of every
loophole which was afforded by the German law as it extended over conquered
In order to make his shadiest dealings seem as regular business practice, Goering insisted on German thoroughness: all receipts and bills presented to Goering, all receipts signed by Goering, and every minute detail recorded. These detailed accounts provided to the ALIU a detailed picture of art looting between 1939 and 1945. Last, Goering made “a policy of ostentatiously refusing gifts from anyone who was indebted to him for protection against the anti-Semitic laws or help in obtaining a visa to a neutral country. However if the gift offered was an attractive one, he usually managed to acquire it by exchange.” (Report, p. 158.)
Goering intended to have his collection be a monument to his name. In 1939,
he acquired approximately 200 objects; by 1945, it was over 2,000 individual
objects including over 1,300 paintings. Goering maintained the appearance of
legality and refused to associate himself with undisguised looting. He continually
deceived and used the system for his benefit. In 1940, in
Yes this is a hidden historical source displaying another dimension of Göring yet his tactics show that he was deceitful and hypocritical like his colleagues in the Nazi party. This report dispels the illusion of Goering being a “better” Nazi than the others. The secondary literature does not address Göring’s interest and great desires in art collecting.
To address the dual problems of researchers’ demand for records and associated
preservation problems with overuse of fragile World War II records documenting
the locating and restituting of confiscated art, NARA created the Holocaust
Records Program, HRP, and assigned it to identify, preserve, describe, and microfilm
over 10,000 linear feet of NARA’s records, several millions of pages, regarding
Nazi looted art and cultural property. These materials cross many record groups
of U.S. Government civilian agencies,
Our first completed project
involves the Office of Strategic Services’ Art Looting Investigation Unit, ALIU.
Available on one roll of microfilm, M1782, these detailed and consolidated interrogation
reports were compiled from ALIU officers’ interrogations and analysis of collected
documents containing locations of Nazi looted art; Nazi attempts to sell looted
art; movement of art into the Reich; purchasing and selling of confiscated art;
and names of dealers and agents engaged in acquiring and selling looted art.
The three Consolidated Interrogation Reports describe in detail the activities
of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, E.R.R., in
[Include different series/RGS….]
Why these particular records?
These files expose
HRP’s primary goal is to aid archival research in looted cultural property records. We are creating specialized finding aids beginning at the series level, and for many record groups, item level descriptions. This is an indulgence on our part yet specialized finding aids for these items need to be created. Not only do these inventories assist researchers in their location of archival materials, the inventories help the preservation of the records by saving the researcher from needless rummaging and handling. We continue to work closely with researchers in identifying additional key series in order to create a more detailed inventory. Another goal of HRP is to post our inventories and indexes on the Art Provenance web site, and testing the digitalization of popular series as an addition and/or alternative to microfilm. The project continues working closely with legal officers for greater openness and availability of archival records.
HRP hopes to provide greater access to the research and historical communities, and to preserve the records. Thank you.
Office of Strategic Services, Art Looting Investigation Unit. “Consolidated Interrogation
Report No. 2, The Göring Collection,” by Theodore Rosseau, Jr., Lieutenant, USNR. OSS/ALIU CIR, 13 September 1945; Records of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, Record Group 239, box 85; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD (NACP).
Office of Strategic Services, Art Looting Investigation Unit. “Consolidated Interrogation
Report, “Report No. 1, Activity of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg in France August 1945,” by James Plaut Lieutenant, USNR, OSS/ALIU CIR, 15 August 1945; Records of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, Record Group 239; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Bewley, Charles. Hermann Göring and the Third Reich: a biography based on family
and official records.
De Jaeger, Charles. The
Webb & Bower, 1981.
Frischauer, Willi. The Rise and Fall of Hermann Goering.
Mosley, Leonard. The Reich Marshal: a biography of Hermann Goering. Garden City;
Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa: the fate of
Petropoulos, Jonathan. Art as politics in the Third Rich.