Rose Valland, on “the Art Front”

Coordination scientifique : Corinne Bouchoux

Keeping watch

Affiche de protection placée par les Allemands sur les dépôts d’œuvres d’art pendant la guerre (photocopie)

Protection notice set by the German on works of art storerooms during the war (photocopy), anonymous, 1940,printed paper, Paris, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, © Ministère des Affaires Etrangères. 

Rose Valland was not content with cataloguing what the Occupier looted, important though this was. Lest we forget, the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume were kept under German military protection as suggested by this poster. The upshot is that their access was strictly forbidden, and that the most absolute secrecy was to be kept about all that took place there. One day that Rose Valland was caught deciphering an address, Doctor Lohse reminded her that everything was secret and that talking of what was going on in the place presented serious risks: “looking me straight in the eye he told me that I could be shot.”(8 April 1944 – extract from a note by Rose Vailland preserved in the Archives des Musées Nationaux - cote MR 32).

She further made the best of her strategic position to warn her director (also his commander in the Resistance), Jacques Jaujard of all Nazi dignitaries’ movements.

She drafted hundreds of records.

“Sir, I am pleased to let you know that Field marshal Göring visited the Jeu de Paume on … and left again … hours later.”

Rose Valland’s daring can best be measured when reading Göring’s reports outlining an airtight setup.

A perilous record keeping

Four times, Rose Valland was bid leave the Jeu de Paume by the Occupier:

“The Germans caught me red-handed deciphering addresses only once[…]

Increasingly, meanwhile, they thought me an inconvenient witness, to be disposed of before the end of hostilities, so had decided Von Behr. I was to be taken to Germany and eliminated once over the border …”

 “The French staff were required to sign a statement whereby they committed under oath never to divulge, either during or after the war, what they had seen at the Jeu de Paume. I refused.”

(Rose Valland, Sur le front de l'art, op. cit., pp. 83-84).

Goering choisissant des tableaux

Goering selecting paintings, anonymous, 1940, black and white photograph, Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs, Association 'La Mémoire de Rose Valland', © Association 'La Mémoire de Rose Valland'.

“All that I saw and heard came to represent, stored in my memory and on file, a significant stock on the basis of which I strove to know as much as possible of the ERR operations and projects. Everything had to be watched and remembered for there is no knowing in the moment what detail will matter later on…”

 (Rose Valland, Sur le front de l'art, op. cit., p.79.)

 The Göring Report, 1May 1941

 “1 May 1941

the war against Jews, Free Masons, their Allies, and other related pernicious spiritual agencies is an urgent task for National Socialism to accomplish during the War. That is why I have approved Reichsleiter Rosenberg’s creation of his Special Task Force in Occupied Territories. Its mission is to seek out and seize all manner of research materials and cultural goods belonging to the above-mentioned groups and transport them to Germany.

Accordingly, I order all the services of the Party, the State and the army to assist and support in every possible way […]his substitute, Oberführer of the German Red Cross and Party comrade Von Behr and to thus further the completion of the task. By the same token, I order the latter to keep me informed of all actions and especially of any difficulty encountered”

Quoted in Rose Valland, Sur le front de l'Art, op. cit., document 8, p. 240-241.

Translation from the French by the translator of this document.