840.403/36: Airgram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Winant )12

A–1370. Your A–435, June 7, 12:20 a.m. The President has approved the establishment of an American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe, composed of the following:

  • Members: 13
    • Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts, United States Supreme Court, Chairman;
    • The Honorable David E. Finley, Director, National Gallery of Art, Vice-Chairman;
    • The Honorable Herbert H. Lehman, Special Assistant to the President;
    • The Honorable Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress;
    • Dr. William Bell Dinsmoor, President, Archeological Institute of America;
    • Dr. Paul J. Sachs, Associate Director, Fogg Museum of Fine Arts;
    • Dr. Francis Henry Taylor, President, Association of Art Museum Directors.
  • Secretary-Treasurer:
    • Mr. Huntington Cairns, Secretary-Treasurer and General Counsel, National Gallery of Art.

The Department referred certain of the points raised in the note of the Foreign Office of May 31, 1943 to the Commission. As soon as the Commission’s comments are received the Department will send a reply to the whole note.

A confidential airgram has been received from the Embassy at Moscow,14 the pertinent portions of which are as follows:

“a note dated August 5, 1943, has been received from the Foreign Office in reply to the Embassy’s note of May 31, concerning the protection of works of art and historical monuments. The reply states that:

‘the questions referred to in this note fall within the competence of the Extraordinary Commission for establishing and investigating the crimes of the German-Fascist usurpers and their accomplices and the damage done by them to the citizens, collective farmers, public organizations, State enterprises and institutions of the USSR, established by the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of November 2, 1942.

‘Having in view the communication of the Embassy regarding the plan for the creation of a committee for collaborating in the realization of a program of preserving and guarding art monuments, historical monuments and works of art in Europe, the People’s Commissariat hopes that the Embassy will be good enough to inform the People’s Commissariat of further measures relating to this question’.

“The decree referred to was published in Izvestiya on November 6, 1942”.

As approved by the President, the American Commission will cooperate with such other national commissions as may be established for the purpose of taking steps to protect and conserve works of art and artistic or historical monuments and records in Europe and to aid in salvaging and returning to the lawful owners such objects as have been appropriated by the Axis powers or by individuals acting under their authority or consent. Under the auspices of the War Department a special section has been formed in the School of Military Government at Charlottesville, Virginia, for the purpose of training certain officers in the Specialist Branch of the service so that they could [Page 482] be attached to the staffs of our armies to advise the commanding officers of such troops as to the location of and the care to be given to the various artistic and historic objects in occupied territory. It is contemplated that after the occupied territory has passed from a military to a civilian government, this work would be turned over to the properly constituted authorities representing the United Nations.

The Commission is to secure, on a volunteer basis, the services of a committee of experts composed of museum directors and other qualified persons to advise on the above project and to furnish information required for carrying it out.

The Commission will have its offices in the National Gallery of Art at Washington and will function in close contact with the War Department and the State Department, as well as civilian agencies which will later be concerned in the affairs of liberated or occupied territories.

  1. Similar airgram sent on the same date to the Ambassador in the Soviet Union as No. A–24.
  2. In a letter dated November 8, President Roosevelt inquired whether former Governor Alfred B. Smith of New York would be in a position to accept membership on the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe. A certificate of designation, following his acceptance, was transmitted by the Secretary of State on December 31.
  3. Airgram No. A–7, August 11, 4 p.m.