Heide Fasnacht: ERR Project

June 5 – July 31, 2009


Heide Fasnacht continues to expand her definition of drawing through the use of new materials resulting here with alarge drawing in progress for the main gallery.  Conceptually, Fasnacht has been researching and documenting the storage rooms discovered by the OSS immediately following World War II that were implemented by the Nazi organization identified as the ERR.

"Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring helped establish the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), directed by Alfred Rosenberg, the official Nazi office charged with confiscating prominent, mainly Jewish, art collections in the western Nazi-occupied territories. Housed in the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris, the ERR operated from 1940 to 1944. . . .

The ERR was the most elaborate of the Nazi confiscating agencies, and it looted more than twenty-one thousand individual objects from over two hundred Jewish-owned collections.   For every object delivered to the Jeu de Paume Museum, a clearinghouse to process all French confiscations, ERR staff created an inventory card containing the artist's name, medium, dimensions, and in many cases, a photograph. The ERR then organized the cards by codes based on the family's name and a number: for example "R" for the Rothschild family, "D.W." for David-Weill, and "SEL" for the Seligmann family in Paris. On many cards appears a stamp with either "AH" or "HG," indicating if the object was going to Hitler's museum in Linz or to Göring's personal collection at Carinhall (Göring's country house named in honor of his wife, Carin)." From The Holocaust Records Preservation Project by Anne Rothfeld, 2002

Recently an artist in residence at Q Box in Athens, Greece, The ERR Project will be accompanied by a series of related works on paper.



With the National Socialist seizure of power in January 1933, new laws were passed such as the 7 April 1933 Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service sanctioning the wide-ranging purges of Jews and socialists, as well as non-Party members perceived of as a threat.

In the Summer, 1937, the purging of “degenerate art” from state collections was undertaken.  Adolf Ziegler, the president of the Reich Camber for the Visual Arts, led a commission that toured museums and selected the works to be removed.  Those professionals who refused were fined up to RM 100,000.  Over 17,000 artworks were removed from State Museums.  At a meeting of 27 February 1939 of the Disposal Commission, they were asked to identify those works that could be sold, and notified others that the rest would be burned.  Over 1000 oil paintings and 3,825 watercolors and graphic works were incinerated at Berlin’s main fire station on 20 March 1939. 

Dr. Otto Kummel in concert with Joseph Goebbels and the Propaganda Ministry organized the “repatriation” of German artworks upon the advent of war in1939.  Kummel oversaw a group of experts that compiled a list of artworks of German origin (or that had been removed from German Collections since 1500) located abroad.  Their findings were compiled into the notorious three volume, five hundred plus page Kummel Report which became the “wish list” of the Nazis. Hitler reportedly studied the catalogs carefully, with an eye toward enhancing the collection of his Fuhrermuseum in Linz.. As early as March 1938, Hitler planned to build Linz as a cultural city to rival that of Vienna.  Hans Posse, director of the future Fuhrermuseum would have first choice.  Through their involvement in the disposal of purged modern works, Goring, Goebbels, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Schirach and others amassed sizeable collections.  Objects deemed to be Germanic in origin were preserved, while those of Slavic, Jewish, and “gypsy” cultures were destroyed.

The ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg) was established by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring and directed by Alfred Rosenberg, the official Nazi office charged with confiscating prominent, mainly Jewish, art collections in the western Nazi-occupied territories.  Housed in the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris, the ERR operated from 1940 to 1944.  Over twenty-one thousand individual objects from over two hundred Jewish-owned collections were catalogued with an inventory card containing the the artist’s name, medium, dimensions, and in many cases, a photograph.  The ERR then organized the cards by codes based on the family’s name and a number:  for example “R” for Rothschild Family.  By Fall 1940, Hitler ordered Rosenberg to confiscate all Jewish art collections since these materials were now deemed “ownerless” by Nazi decree and most Jews “stateless” with no property rights.  Goring quickly co-opted the plundering agency for his own purposes as he directed some seven hundred paintings from the Jeu de Paume depot to his Karinhall Estate near Berlin.  In 1939, Goring had acquired approximately two hundred objects; by 1945 he owned over two thousand individual pieces including over thirteen hundred paintings.  By the end of 1944, the multiple branches of the ERR alone had over 350 employees.  In total, thousands participated in the greatest art plundering operation ever, and there were additional thousands in the Nazi art world who played supporting roles.

December 1943, Ernst Buchner (Art Museum Director) recommended the use of the Alt Aussee Salt Mine (a horizontal mile into the mountain) as a storage facility.  At war’s end, it contained 6,577 paintings, 137 sculptures and 484 cases with various other art objects making it, along with the Schloss Neuschwanstein some 50 miles south of Munich, the largest repositories of Nazi loot.  Prior to the German capitulation, the ERR had seized over 21,903 artworks from French Jews and had removed them to the Reich.  The last transport of plunder had left France from the Jeu de Paume on 15 July 1944. 

On May 2, 1945, there was reportedly an order from Adolf Eigruber to destroy the Alt Aussee storage of artworks before they fell into Soviet hands.  While the fanatical plan of the persistent SS troops was ultimately resisted, the plan was to explode eight cases each containing a 500-kilogram aerial bomb. 

Beginning 6 May 1945, the Monuments Men discovered hundreds of caves and mines that stored Nazi caches. The first mine they investigated was a copper mine outside of Siegen in Westphalia in April 1945, where they found paintings by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Rubens. An original score of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony was also among the items found here.  On April 6, 1945, came the second find: The Merkers salt mine housed millions of Reichsmarks in gold bars, non-monetary victims gold, and art from more than a dozen German state museums. In May, Patton's Third Army found the salt mine at Alt Aussee in Austria, which housed more than 6,500 paintings for Hitler's museum in Linz and stolen Italian art for Göring's personal collection.  Another large find by the U.S. First Army was the salt mine at Bernterode in Germany's Thuringia Forest.  During the war, the mine had been used as a storehouse of German munitions and military supplies. In a room behind a brick wall and locked door, however, were huge caskets adorned with Nazi regalia. At first the Americans thought they had found Hitler's tomb, but upon examination, they discovered that the caskets held the bodies of "three of Germany's most revered rulers: Field Marshal von Hindenburg, Frederick the Great, and Frederick William I."  In addition to the caskets, the American troops found German regimental banners, the Prussian crown regalia with the jewels removed, and paintings, including some by artists such as Watteau and Cranach. 

Soon after the Allied forces discovered the mines and caves in the spring 1945, the Allies began the tedious task of moving the objects into central storage areas in order to return each object to its rightful owner. U.S. Third Army officers and troops found the Alt Aussee mine in May 1945, and it took more than two months to empty the mine and ship the contents to Munich. Having found the stolen art pieces, the Monuments Men, with the aid of Allied troops, faced two huge tasks: first, removing the art from the mines or castles and second, transporting the pieces to safe storage areas within the U.S. occupation zone. Despite the tireless efforts of Allied military and civilian agencies, hundreds of confiscated artworks were never recovered and returned to their rightful owners. The vast volume of documentation left behind by the Nazis and the Allied agencies, however, allows those efforts to continue. Through its microfilming and preservation program, the Holocaust Records Project in Washington, D.C. is providing the historical and art communities with greater access to the records that tell the story of artworks and artifacts damaged and looted during World War.