Press/Journalists

Media Alert
October 1, 2009

National Archives to Facilitate Return of 16th Century Books to Germany

U.S. World War II veteran to return to Germany historic books

WHAT: A press conference to announce the return to the German government of two 16th century books safe-guarded by German cultural institutions in a salt mine during World War II. These volumes have been in private hands for over 60 years.

WHO:

  • Acting Archivist of the United States Adrienne Thomas
  • Ambassador J. Christian Kennedy, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Department of State
  • German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth
  • Assistant Archivist of the United States and expert on German cultural restitution issues, Michael Kurtz
  • U.S. World War II veteran Robert Thomas

WHERE: Room 105, National Archives Building
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Press should use Pennsylvania Avenue entrance.

WHEN: Tuesday, October 6, 2009, 11 A.M.

Please note: Cameras May Use Available Light Only

Background

During World War II German cultural institutions stored their cultural property – including works of arts, archives, and books – in at least 1,500 repositories to protect them from the ravages of war. Many of these priceless objects were placed in salt mines in Germany – the most famous of which was Merkers mine.

As General Patton's army advanced eastward through Germany in early April 1945, an 18-year old soldier with the 358th Infantry Regiment inspecting recently captured areas stumbled upon a mine and entered it. He returned to headquarters to report on what he had found and took with him two 16th century books. After the war, the soldier returned home earning a Bronze Star medal, and Combat Infantryman Badge, among other medals. He also took home (as souvenirs) the two books he had removed from the mine. More than 60 years later, the veteran contacted the National Archives, seeking information about the circumstances surrounding the books. Archivist Greg Bradsher traced the general provenance of the volumes, located the mine from which they were removed, and determined both when the two items were placed in the mine, and when they were uncovered by the soldier. In supplying the information to the veteran Dr. Bradsher suggested that the books be returned. The veteran readily agreed. This event marks the return of these precious books to the German government.

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For press information contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (202) 357-5300.

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