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As the Allies advanced into Germany in April 1945, General Patton’s U.S. Third Army discovered the collections of the Berlin State Museums, along with the Nazi gold reserves, hidden in a salt mine. These objects were not Nazi loot, which the Allies also found in staggering quantities, but German patrimony. In August, the Berlin collections were transferred to the Central Collecting Point in Wiesbaden, an army storage depot directed by Captain Walter I. Farmer of Cincinnati. Farmer was a “Monuments Man,” one of a group of men and women tasked with locating and safeguarding works of art. 

In November 1945, Farmer received an order from the U.S. military government that “at least 200 German works of art of greatest importance” be prepared for transfer to the U.S. for safekeeping. Shocked and concerned that this would amount to claiming the art as spoils of war, Farmer and his fellow Monuments Men drafted a protest known as the Wiesbaden Manifesto. It had no immediate effect: their commanding officer did not send it up the chain of command. Later that month, 202 paintings were shipped to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. 

However, the manifesto was distributed in art circles, reported on, and ultimately published in January 1946, igniting a public discussion of ethics and U.S. policy. Although President Truman declared the transfer a safekeeping mission, members of the museum community, the press, and the Monuments Men felt that this was at odds with America’s commitment to protecting the cultural heritage of other countries during the war.