18 December 2022

Maison Bulgari and the Nazis

Maison Bulgari, Rome

by Marc Masurovsky

Why would a high-end luxury goods business like Bulgari become a target of Allied investigations during WWII? That honor resulted from a convergence of seemingly isolated factors when, brought together, created a pattern of behavior extending internationally and involving businessmen, art agents, Nazi officials, and a possible Jewish victim of plunder. The end result was a suspicion that Bulgari would allow itself to be used as a conduit and enabler of Nazi attempts to secrete assets overseas in places where they could technically be invested in ventures meant to subvert the post-1945 world.

In 1941, US officials questioned Achille Colombo after his arrival in New York from Italy via Buenos Aires, Argentina. The circuitous journey lasted seven months from March to October 1940. Colombo had with him two platinum, diamond and ruby rings worth 47,000 dollars (1945 value). He told US officials that he had acquired them from Bulgari in Italy, several years prior. They were to be delivered to Henri Untermans, Bulgari’s representative in New York.

Henri Untermans
Colombo had a bank account at Banco de Provincia in Buenos Aires. They suspected Colombo of acting as a channel to sell assets “removed from Italy.” While Colombo was on his long and circuitous trek to New York, the Bulgari House opened its Lugano store from which it would transact in high-end and high-value objects. A financial investigation into Colombo’s business dealings revealed a three-way transaction involving the rings between Constantine G. Bulgari in Lugano, Banco de Provincia, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Chase National Bank in New York City. The transaction was worth 47,000 dollars, the exact value of the rings in Colombo’s possession.

Eberhard von Mackensen

Constantino-Giorgio Bulgari and his partner, Giorgio-Leonido Bulgari, both Greek-born, owned The House of Sotirio Bulgari. Based in Rome, the Bulgaris were able to avoid restrictive measures imposed by Fascist authorities on Greeks residing in Fascist Italy. They hobnobbed with Eberhardt von Mackensen, the German Ambassador in Rome, with whom they were often in daily contact. One of the Bulgaris even met in Zurich with the Baron Kurt von Behr, senior official of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in German-occupied Paris. He acted as Hermann Goering’s emissary to explore possible ways of laundering plundered diamonds valued at 7 million Swiss francs, once the property of Louis Arscher, a Parisian jeweler.

To spice things up a bit, Giacomo Laurenti, Bulgari’s lawyer in Lugano and honorary Greek consul, was allegedly implicated in trafficking precious stones from across Europe. Some jewels and stones that he had shipped to the Americas were seized in Bermuda by British blockade officials. When US diplomats stationed in Switzerland questioned Laurenti about his work for Bulgari, he stated that he acted as a “mail drop” for them so that they could communicate with “persons outside Axis territory.” Laurenti was not alone: Benno Geiger, a Venetian art dealer of German ancestry, did Goering’s bidding as a go-between to acquire old silver and other luxury objects from Bulgari to the tune of nine million lira (1945 value).

Primary Sources:

Safehaven Report, Maison Sotirio Bulgari, Rome, Italy, Despatch No. 11823 from US Embassy in Berne, 1 June 1945, 850.3 series, RG 153 M 1933 Reel 2 NARA.

Looted Art in Occupied Territories, Neutral Countries and Latin America, Foreign Economic Admnistration revised report, August 1945, pp. 24-5., RG 239 M 1944 Reel 9, NARA.

Photo credits:

Bulgari, Rome

Henri Untermans
c/o Sousa Mendes Foundation

Eberhard von Mackensen

05 December 2022

The disappearance of Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man

Portrait of a Young Man

by Marc Masurovsky

What happened to Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man which belongs to the world-renown collection of the Krakow-based Czartoryski family? The now-iconic painting (the poster child for WWII plundered “treasures”) pulled off a world-class vanishing act in the early days of May 1945 as US troops closed in on the South Bavarian compound of Hans Frank, Governor-General of German-occupied Poland.

The Czartoryski family, one of the flowers of Polish nobility, owned palatial residences and estates in Krakow, Goluchów and Sieniawa (Poland). Since 1893, the Goluchów Castle served as a Museum of the Czartoryski collection. Many of the family’s artistic possessions were stored and displayed there. They included close to 5000 art objects and antiquities as well as several hundred Old Master paintings. The bulk of the collection was transferred to Sieniawa for protection. Soon after the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, German troops reached the Czartoryski estates and seized their contents. To make matters worse, a local mason had betrayed the location of the hidden Czartoryski “treasury.”

Hans Frank

In October 1939, Kajetan Mühlmann, who had played a major role in the plunder of cultural treasures in German-occupied Poland, brought to Berlin choice pieces from the confiscated Czartoryski collection—works by Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt. In late November, at Martin Bormann’s urging, Hans Posse, the director of Hitler’s Linz museum project, requested the transfer of the best pieces from the Czartoryski collection to the Linz museum. It fell on deaf ears. The paintings returned to Krakow only to be shipped back to Berlin in 1942, this time on orders from Field Marshal Hermann Goering. However, the Nazis, fearing for the safety of the works due to Allied bombardments, opted to send the works back to Krakow, where they were stored at the Wawel Castle. 

Wawel Castle, Krakow

From August 1944 to January 1945, in the face of an imminent offensive by the Soviet Red Army, a gradual evacuation began of Hans Frank’s Krakow HQ and the many plundered art objects and paintings under his control. The main evacuation point was the estate of Count Manfred von Richtofen in Seichau (Sichów), Silesia, which the Auswärtiges Amt [German Foreign Office] had requisitioned for use by Hans Frank, his staff and the German Army. At the outset, a small number of Frank’s aides had appeared at Seichau (Sichów). It was not until the surrender of Krakow that the largest contingents overtook von Richtofen’s castle. He confirmed that Frank and his top aides had remained in the main house for only a few days until their “sudden” departure on 23 January 1945. In other words, Frank did not reach Seichau (Sichów) until mid-January 1945. 

Seichau Castle, Silesia
A German official by the name of Gross indicated that in the months following the requisition of von Richtofen’s estate, there was a continual movement of “lorries” which carried ‘objets d’art’ as well as“foodstuffs and large quantities of alcohol.” He noted that, after the departure of the Frank party on 23 January 1945, the rooms that they had occupied at Seichau (Sichów) were in “complete chaos,” a statement confirmed by Fraulein Liselotte Freund of Seichau Castle. (Gross and Liselotte Freund supplied separate statements to an SS investigative officer on 2 February 1945).

Frau von Wietersheim’s Muhrau estate, 14 km from Seichau, served as a secondary evacuation point. Wilhelm Ernst von Palézieux, Hans Frank’s chief of the ‘Referat für Kunst’ (Art Section) and Eduard Kneisel, an Austrian-born restorer, were responsible for ensuring the safety of the plundered treasures from the Czartoryski and other noble Polish collections. They watched over the thousands of art works and objects in their custody at both estates.

It took the greater part of a month for the various convoys carrying Hans Frank and his many staff members to reach Neuhaus am Schliersee in southern Bavaria where Hans Frank had an estate. Neuhaus am Schliersee became the final destination for the Polish looted cultural treasures under Frank’s control, including those that belonged to the Czartoryskis. On 17 February 1945, Hans Frank informed Dr. Lammers, chief of the Reich Chancellery, that the last convoys had reached Neuhaus.

According to London-based Count Zamoyski, one of the heirs to the Czartoryski estate, the Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael was stored at a villa serving as a residence for Wilhelm Ernst von Palézieux in the immediate vicinity of Hans Frank’s compound. Eduard Kneisel confirmed this fact in subsequent years and testified that he had not conducted any restoration work on the painting but that it had been removed from its massive crate.

The “vanishing”

In the first week of May 1945, American military units converged on the Bavarian compound of Hans Frank at Neuhaus am Schliersee. They searched Frank’s office in the “Bergfrieden” chalet, which was near the “Schoberhof”, his main residence. According to an American miliary investigative report, the troops conducted only a superficial search of the “Schoberhof.” The MFAA took nearly a year to file a report on the circumstances surrounding Hans Frank’s capture and the disappearance of the Raphael. The report acknowledged that US troops had not conducted an extensive search of the “Schoberhof.”

On 4-5 May 1945, American troops located and arrested Hans Frank as he tried to escape with members of this retinue. Frank made a failed attempt at suicide on 6 May 1945. US troops recovered most of Hans Frank’s loot. However, the Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael vanished into thin air either right before the arrival of American troops or under their very noses while they were overtaking Neuhaus. It’s anyone’s guess where the painting is currently stashed. 

Primary sources:

Document 3614-PS, Evacuation of Cracow, UConn Archives and Special Collections

Frank to Lammers, Document 3614-PS, Office of US Chief Counsel, IMT

undated letter from Count von Richtofen to an Ortsgruppenleiter of the NSV [National Socialist Welfare Organization]

"The loot from Poland," unsigned summary. RG 59, Lot 62D-4, Ardelia Hall Collection, Box 9, NARA.

Ardelia Hall to Count Zamoyski, 15 December 1960, Lot 62D-4 Ardelia Hall Collection, Box 13, NARA.

Walther Bader interrogation by Edgar Breitenbach and Dr. Roethel, 24 June 1947, RG 260 Prop. Div., Ardelia Hall, MCCP, Box 479, NARA.

RG 239 M1944 Reel 127 NARA. 

Photo credits

Hans Frank

Kajetan Mühlmann

Wawel castle

29 November 2022

What happened to Raphael's "Portrait of a Young Man"?

by Marc Masurovsky

Portrait of a Young Man

What happened to Raphael Santi's “Portrait of a Young Man” which belongs to the world-renown collection of the Cracow-based Czartoryski princely family? The now-iconic painting remains the poster child for WWII plundered “treasures.” Its handlers pulled off a world-class vanishing act in the early days of May 1945 as US troops were closing in on the South Bavarian compound of Hans Frank, by then former governor-general of German-occupied Poland--the last known location of the Raphael.

In the coming weeks, the plunderedart blog will devote a series of informative pieces on various aspects of the disappearance of the Raphael painting and the global search for it.

We will highlight:

-two individuals who were “that close” to the painting up to the days before its disappearance—Eduard Kneisel and Wilhelm Ernst von Palézieux;

-Hans Frank who was governor-general of German-occupied Poland;
Hans Frank awaiting trial

-the US army units that raided Hans Frank’s compound at Neustadt am Schliersee in early May 1945;

-Ardelia Hall, who served as “Fine Arts and Monuments Adviser to the Office of International 
stopped searching for the Raphael;

-Geoges Wildenstein, owner of the internationally-known Wildenstein & Co., Inc.;

Georges Wildenstein

-the Czartoryski family, rightful owner of the Raphael;

-the leadership of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, including former "Monuments Men"--James J. Rorimer, Theodore Rousseau and James Plaut.

And we will pick apart the sequence of events leading to the disappearance of the painting and the post-1945 search for it.

It is a story for the ages. It attests to how easy it is for an imposing work of art like the “Portrait of A Young Man” to  be there one instant and gone the next.  It has remained out of sight since May 4, 1945, the estimated date of its disappearance.

Sources and photo credits:

Ardelia Hall

Georges Wildenstein

Hans Frank

Monuments Men and Women Foundation

20 November 2022

Anthony van Dyck and The Music Man

Portrait of Paulus Pontius,  Anthony van Dyck

by Marc Masurovsky

Adolphe Schloss spent the last thirty years of his life painstakingly assembling a collection of Old Master paintings—Dutch, Flemish, German, Italian, Spanish and French. When he died on New Year’s Eve of 1910-1911, Adolphe Schloss had collected more than 330 paintings. His widow and children took care of the collection until it was time to send it to safety at the approach of war in August 1939. Four years later, a commando of French and German agents stormed the site where the paintings were hidden at the Château de Chambon in Laguenne, Corrèze. They seized all the paintings and brought them to Paris for “processing.”

After they reached their destination on 10 August 1943, representatives of the Vichy government, senior officials from the Louvre, and German officials proceeded with the dismemberment of the confiscated collection. The Louvre snatched 49 paintings for its permanent collection while 262 paintings were sold manu militari to Hitler’s Linz Museum project, and 22 paintings served as a “finder’s fee” for the person who denounced the collection’s whereabouts, Jean-François Lefranc. The 262 paintings were shipped to Munich for storage at the Führerbau from which they were stolen between 29 April and 2 May 1945, under the very noses of American troops. One of those paintings was the Portrait of a gentleman-Paulus Pontius by Anthony van Dyck.

Before Adolphe Schloss acquired the work by 1896, Paulus Pontius had changed hands numerous times and travelled throughout Western Europe and the United Kingdom. Its earliest recorded owner was Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga (1690-1756), who held the painting until his death in 1756. Then it conveyed to Cardinal Luigi Valenti Gonzaga (1725-1808), Rome, until 1763 when an art dealer, Hendrick de Leth (1703-1766) acquired it. From there, the painting crossed the Channel and ended up at Peper Harow in Surrey, England with the Midleton Family (we think). It remained in Surrey until 1851 after which time it migrated to London into the hands of Wynn Ellis (1790-1875). By 1896, London-based P. & D. Colnaghi sold Paulus Pontius to Charles Sedelmeyer in Paris (cat. 1896, no. 11, ill.). Sedelmeyer was one of Adolphe Schloss’ main art advisors. Naturally, Schloss snapped up the van Dyck portrait that same year and it remained with him and the Schloss family until its confiscation in 1943.

Munich 1945

MCCP card #46622

The massive unprecedented and largely unsolved art theft at the Führerbau (29 April-2 May 1945) netted over 1100 paintings. While American troops were completing the liberation of Munich and ridding the embattled city of its most fanatical armed Nazi resisters, Munich citizens were busily robbing Hitler’s administrative office building in search of food, alcohol, and anything fungible with which to survive in war-torn Munich.

Like most of the plundered paintings removed from the Führerbau, Paulus Pontius went quickly underground. It took three years for Americans to catch wind of its possible location. Until then, its whereabouts had remained unknown to American and French investigators connected with the Munich Central Collecting Point (MCCP), a central processing station for all objects recovered by Allied troops in Bavaria and processed for repatriation to their countries of origin.

Wolfgang von Dallwitz

The efforts to locate the missing painting took an unusual turn in February 1948 when Wolfgang von Dallwitz, of Biedersteinstrasse 21 (Munich) told Edgar Breitenbach that he had seen the painting in mid-November 1947 at “the apartment of a friend in Munich” together with two other paintings from the Schloss collection (a painting by Ludolf Backhuyzen /Schloss 3, a painting by Abraham van Beijeren /Schloss 8). A Dr. Irwin Sieger had allegedly shipped them from a railroad depot in Göttingen. [Breitenbach to Leonard, “Information concerning stolen Schloss paintings,” 25 February 1948, www.fold3.com], a fact he denied vigorously when questioned by Breitenbach.

Irwin (or Erwin) Sieger

Allied investigators were unsure of Sieger’s identity since they had received conflicting reports about the activities of a man bearing that name actively engaged in concealing and dispersing art looted during WWII and stolen from the Führerbau. Under questioning, Dr. Erwin Sieger lived at Olgastrasse 98 in Munich who was known as an “unscrupulous businessman” and a self-described “art amateur”, pledged to assist US authorities with their investigations into the whereabouts of the Schloss paintings and others. [Breitenbach to Leonard, “Information concerning stolen Schloss paintings,” 25 February 1948, www.fold3.com].
Lt. Hugoboom

The music man

In early 1947, while serving as a MFAA officer in Munich, Lt. Ray W. [Wayne] Hugoboom received Portrait of Paulus Pontius as “turned-in loot from the Führerbau” which Hugoboom characterized as a “gift” from the Oberbürgermeister (Lord Mayor) of Munich. However, instead of returning it to the MCCP as he should have, Hugoboom asked Franz Söker in Neu-Gilching if he could restore the damaged painting. It took him about two weeks. 

Once ready, Hugoboom hung the painting in his office. He even mentioned to his former secretary, Miss Koslowski, that he had bought it on the black market in Munich and not to tell his superior officer, Captain Rae of the MFAA. Lt. Hugoboom had a black crate made with metal sidings in which to house the painting, ostensibly for shipment. When confronted by Edgar Breitenbach, Lt. Hugoboom contradicted Koslowski’s assertion in a letter dated 3 June 1948. He delivered a contrite apology about his errant ways in the handling of the van Dyck. [Ray W. Hugoboom, School of Music, Indiana Unversity, Bloomington, IN, to Edgar Breitenbach, MFAA, OMGBavaria, 3 June 1948; Breitenbach to Hugoboom, 26 May 1948, www.fold3.com].

The recovery

On 6 April 1948, Edgar Breitenbach recovered Anthony van Dyck’s Portrait of Paulus Pontius at the studio of Alfred Koch on Holbeinstrasse 5 (or 43), Munich. According to Breitenbach, the van Dyck painting was the third most important painting from the Schloss collection. As part of his investigation into the circumstances surrounding the van Dyck painting, Breitenbach summoned for questioning Franz Söker to the MCCP on 14 April 1948. [Herbert Leonard, OMGB, to Franz Söker, 14 April 1948, RG 260 M 1946 Reel 137 NARA. www.fold3.com].

Ray Wayne Hugoboom’s defense

After Lt. Hugoboom left Munich in mid-1947 and returned to the United States, he received a promotion to become Assistant Professor of Choral Practice at the School of Music at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. Hugoboom retold his saga with the van Dyck and declared that “the painting was located in an alley rapped [sic] up in old papers, thoroughly soaked and quite badly damaged.” He largely corroborated his official story—restoration, hanging in his room “for a short time before leaving” and leaving the painting with Alfred Koch “momentarily.” He was so busy with plans for his departure that he forgot to “arrange for [the] return” of the painting to the MCCP. [Wayne Hugoboom to Edgar Breitenbach, 10 May 1948, RG 260 M 1946 Reel 137 NARA].

Breitenbach sets the record straight

In his reply to “dear Hugoboom,” Breitenbach informed him that his letter of 10 May 1948 had caused “considerable embarrassment” at the MFAA. His recounting of the facts did not tally with the MFAA’s investigation.

Firstly, the mayor of Munich did not show him the van Dyck painting and three other paintings. It is Alfred Koch who advised him on the selection. Koch remembered the other paintings very well: two Breughel-like landscapes and a Dutch interior with woman and child. Koch did recall your hesitancy in accepting the gift but that you decided to take it, nevertheless, hoping to donate it “at a later date to some museum.”

Secondly, the story of the gift from the Mayor’s office may have been a hoax. Did Hugoboom partake in it? Unsure. But Alfred Koch and an accomplice by the name of Gillman were certainly in on it. Breitenbach noted that an apology to the Oberbürgermeister was in order. Gillman was also involved as a bit player in the mishandling of another painting from the Schloss collection, Portrait of a Lady, by Bartholomeus van der Helst.

The MFAA ultimately laid the responsibility for the van Dyck affair at Hugoboom’s feet and suggested that the only way to fix it was for him to “make a clean breast” to the MFAA staff. [Edgar Breitenbach to Hugoboom, 26 May 1948, RG 260 M 1946 Reel 137 NARA].  On 3 June 1948, Hugoboom formally apologized to “Mr. Breitenbach.” [Wayne Hugoboom to Mr. Breitenbach, 3 June 1948, RG 260 M 1946 Reel 137 NARA].

Final destination

Portrait of Paulus Pontius, Israel Museum, Jerusalem
The van Dyck painting was repatriated to Paris on 3 June 1948 and restituted to the family of Adolphe Schloss on 6 July 1948. It was sold at Galerie Charpentier on 25 May 1949 (lot no. 17). Madeleine and Joseph R. Nash, an Australian couple living in Paris, acquired the painting. They died on 15 August 1977. Two years later, in keeping with their history of donations to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the painting was bequeathed anonymously to the Israel Museum.


RG 260 M 1947 Reel 137 NARA through www.fold3.com

ERR database

The Jewish Digital Cultural Recovery Project (JDCRP) Pilot Project

The Monuments Men and Women Foundation