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Heroic Measures - Perspectives No. 396

Heroic Measures

Perspectives No. 396

Bergungsort Salzbergwerk Altaussee, 1945
Altaussee, May 1945
After the Removal of the Eight 500 kg Bombs at the Nazi Stolen Art Repository

   The sites where plundered gold and artworks were stored by German Nazis during World War II included the remote Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. Over 21,000 objects were found there, many of them confiscated artworks from Paris. Another storage site was the Siegen copper mine in North Rhine-Westphalia Germany, which, in addition to stolen artwork, contained over 400 million Reichsmarks worth of Nazi gold.

   The Austrian Altaussee salt mines contained some of the most valuable works of art. The mines are 18 stories deep and remain active today, producing as much as 63,000 gallons of brine per hour. At the time of the war, they had been mined by the same family for centuries and provided ideal conditions for the storage of art with constant moderate temperatures and deep enough tunnels to be safe from overhead bombs. From 1943 through 1945, Germans transported the confiscated valuables there, building floors, walls and shelving units to store them.    

   The Altaussee mines are where the Ghent Altarpiece was discovered along with over 6,500 other stolen art treasures, including works by Michelangelo, Dürer, Rubens, and Vermeer. It borders on the miraculous that the priceless treasures were recovered at all. As the Allied forces got closer and closer to the mines, the high-ranking Gauleiter, August Eigruber, had eight 1,100-pound bombs put into the mine shafts. The crates containing the bombs were marked, “Marble - Do Not Drop”. In April of 1945, Eigruber gave the order for the mine to be blown. This initial order was countermanded by Hitler. However, after Hitler’s death, the order from Eigruber stood.

   Salt miners along with members of the Austrian resistance and Nazi officials who disagreed with Eigruber’s command, prevented the carrying out of the order to destroy the mines, and, by night, on May 3rd, removed the embedded bombs. However, in order to fool Eigruber and to seal the treasures into the mine until they could be safely rescued and documented, they blew up the main entrances with smaller charges, thus protecting the valuable contents until the arrival of Allied forces on May 8th. This began the work of the U.S. Army Monuments Men. Their work to remove and document the contents had to be done as quickly as possible for fear that Altaussee was going to be zoned to be under Soviet control and that Stalin’s “Trophy Brigades” would plunder any remaining valuables. Many of the most valuable and iconic treasures of the art world were saved by these dedicated and very hard-working people.

For more information see:
The True Story of the Monuments Men by Jim Morrison, Smithsonian Magazine

The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn H. Nicholas
The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel

Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.




Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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About Us

Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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We are also regular contributors to the Plein Air blog at Artist Daily.

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