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Otto Wittmann papers relating to the Art Looting Investigation Unit of the United States Office of Strategic Services, 1933-2000, bulk 1945-1946

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Otto Wittmann papers relating to the Art Looting Investigation Unit of the United States Office of Strategic Services

Scope and Content of Collection

The archive, which consists of 3.75 linear feet (9 boxes) of papers, documents the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) within the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the mission played by one of its staff members, Otto Wittmann. The OSS--created by President Roosevelt in 1942 with the appointment of William J. Donovan as its director--was one of the early forms of organized intelligence in the United States prior to the establishment of the CIA in 1947. The ALIU was charged with the analysis, gathering and dissemination of intelligence information and with serving as a liaison with other agencies within the War Department, the State Department, the Treasury and the Roberts Commission. It became a repository of intelligence information gathered by numerous agencies on the topic of art looting. The reports prepared by the ALIU exposed the extent of the theft of artworks from countries invaded by Germany, to help create Hermann Goering's collection as well as the Museum and Library of Hitler at Linz. The mission of the ALIU was distinct in nature from that of the field work accomplished by the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives unit (MFAA), whose members were part of the US Army and entered Europe during the war with the Allied invasion with the responsibility of protecting works of art and monuments.

The archive sheds light on how the OSS operated within a larger group of agencies, and helps understand the day-to-day activities of one of its members during an intelligence mission in Europe. It testifies through a small lens to the steps taken by a country in developing secret intelligence on an increasingly large scale. The files gathered by Wittmann reveal the difficulties in communicating such missions to the public, who also viewed the OSS, not without scorn, as the organization of the "Oh So Social," "Oh Shush Shush" and "Oh So Secret."

The archive partially duplicates records in the National Archives, where the records of the ALIU were deposited. Upon his return from his mission in Europe in 1946, Wittmann was the last remaining member of the ALIU, with the other members having returned to their civilian duties, and he was asked by the OSS to close out the ALIU. Wittmann transferred the records of the Washington headquarters office of the ALIU to Ardelia Hall at the State Department, who had been charged with the art records there. Upon Hall's retirement from the State Department, the records of the ALIU were transferred to the National Archives. In 1990-1991, Wittmann took the initiative to order copies of all the reports produced by the ALIU in the National Archives, which are included in the present archive. The archive also contains copies of reports which appear from their annotations to have been Wittmann's personal copies, gathered during his employment with the OSS, and includes reports by agencies in France and England.

A portion unique to the archive are the personal papers of Otto Wittmann related to his employment with the OSS. Notes in these papers provide an almost daily account of Wittmann's intelligence mission in France, Switzerland, Germany and England. Included are Wittmann's agendas, meeting notes and drafts for the examination and analysis of the transfer of artworks from France to Switzerland. Particularly well-documented is Wittmann's analysis of the role in the transfer played by Hans Adolf Wendland, who developed a business partnership with Theodor Fischer of Lucerne. Included are clippings and publications that shed light on art looting during the war, and the restitution efforts undertaken by the United States in collaboration with England, France, Italy, and other countries. The files also attest to the important principle, espoused by Wittmann, that works of art are not spoils of war.


The archive is arranged in four series: Series I. Reports related to art looting during World War II, 1944-1950; Series II. Personal papers, 1933-1997; Series III. Publications related to art looting during World War II, 1946-1984; Series IV. Newspaper clippings, 1941-2000.

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