In the final days of World War II, Cpl. Albert Lorenzetti and Pfc. Yerke Zane Larson each visited Berghof, Adolf Hitler's residence in the Bavarian Alps. As was common, the Allied soldiers each grabbed a souvenir, unassuming leather-bound books that contained pictures of artwork and furniture.
For years, the picture albums served only as family heirlooms, their original purpose unknown.
It wasn't until the men's families turned the albums over to the Monuments Men Foundation, a group committed to recovering artifacts stolen during World War II, that the heirs discovered the books were part of an elaborate set of records the Nazis kept of the art they stole.
Tuesday, the books were formally turned over to the National Archives.
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"My uncle was from a generation that grew up making sacrifices and putting others before themselves," said Lorenzetti's niece, Jane Gonzalez. "I believe that donating this album to the National Archives and thereby assuring its preservation and availability to the public honors his legacy and is a testament to his personal character and patriotism."
During the war, the Nazis stole thousands of pieces of art from homes and countries they invaded.
In order to keep track of all of the loot, Hitler created the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, an agency that meticulously cataloged each piece of art the Nazis stole. Not only were the books filled with pictures of taken items, under each photograph, the ERR wrote a letter and serial number that now offer historians clues about what family the art was taken from. Hitler kept records of the art in hopes of establishing a massive art museum he would call the "Fuhremueseum." Hitler stored some of his treasured albums at Berghof.
This is not the first time albums of this nature have been discovered. In 1945, the Monuments Men recovered 39 such books, which were entered as evidence of Nazi plundering at the Nuremberg Trials. In 2007, the Monuments Men found two more.
So far, the National Archives possesses 41 albums in all.
"These albums are just the tip of the iceberg for hundreds of thousands of cultural items still missing since World War II," Monument Men Foundation President Robert M. Edsel stated. "I hope discoveries such as these will encourage other members of the 989th Battalion and their families, as well as all veterans, to look in their attics and basements for any lost wartime items as they may hold the clues to unravel this unsolved mystery."