NEW ORLEANS (December 17, 2009) – When the young men and women who served in World War II returned home, many of them were not empty handed. They often carried small keepsakes or souvenirs of their time away from home, Nazi paraphernalia, flags, swords, helmets and other items they came across in their travels through Europe and the Pacific.
Young private John Pistone was no different. In the waning days of the war, Pistone found himself at Berghof, the former home and headquarters of Adolf Hitler. It was there he decided to remove a 12-pound album filled with pictures of paintings and other artwork. Little did he know that his battlefield souvenir would possibly help solve one of the greatest mysteries of World War II.
It is now well-known that Hitler had plans for a museum to rival all of the collections of Europe, the Führermuseum. The world’s greatest works were being stolen, looted and purchased for display in the Austrian city of Linz. Many have not resurfaced to this day. A special unit was established after the war to recover as many of these priceless artworks as possible. They were known as the Monuments Men. Robert Edsel continues their work today with his Dallas-based Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. He has also written two books on the topic.
When a friend of Pistone discovered the album still on his bookshelf after 64 years, an Internet search led him to Edsel. Until then only 19 of the 31 albums were believed to have survived the war. The discovery of another one could be monumental in the continued search for these items.
The album, along with two others discovered in 2007, are now on their way back to Germany but not before a temporary display at The National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The albums will be on exhibit January 29 - May 2, 2010.
The discovery of the album has been a source of celebration to the historians who have studied the missing artworks and worked for their return but it also serves as an important public service announcement of sorts. It is hoped that its discovery will encourage other World War II veterans and their children and grandchildren to unearth their own war souvenirs and research them. In some cases, these items could be returned to their rightful owners, or like Pistone’s album, fill in a piece of a puzzle that remains unsolved nearly 65 years later.
The National World War II Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world – why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National World War II Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and the Home Front. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit www.nationalww2museum.org.