by Terese Svoboda
Hitler and My Mother-in-Law is a memoir I’m writing about Patricia Lochridge, the only female reporter at both WWII theaters who “identified” Hitler’s ashes. The book is all about those quotes, that is to say, what’s between propaganda, truth and lies in war and family. This excerpt reveals how she appropriated a Cranach.
In June 1945, the American military appointed twenty-nine-year old Pat Lochridge mayor of Berchtesgaden, the tiny fairytale Bavarian town near the Austrian border crowded by Alps, where three thousand feet up, Hitler built his Eagle’s Nest retreat. “It is the intention of the Allies that the German people be given the opportunity to prepare for the eventual reconstruction of their life on a democratic and peaceful basis,” wrote the Allies at Potsdam. [i] In Germany, this was a nuanced and difficult task, with the defeated angry populace on the brink of starvation. “You can be the first American woman in the military government of Germany. I warn you, however, it’s a tough assignment,” said Lieutenant Colonel Robert S. Smith of the 101st Airborne Division, according to “I Governed Berchtesgaden,” the article Pat published in July’s Woman’s Home Companion.[ii] “No gag, honest” reads the headline. The first and only civilian to be given such authority, she was to show the human side of responsibly governing the country postwar.
You can imagine “the enormous inlaid desk” with not-so-tall Pat seated in a sturdy chair behind it, cap straight, hair over her ears, a stack of documents, a sharpened pencil and Captain di Piero at her side, a “tough paratrooper” who “wigwagged the right answers whenever a problem came up.”[iii] There were problems. During and immediately after the surrender, German guerrilla units worked to sabotage facilities, Nazi agents in US uniforms raped and murdered to incite rebellion against Allied troops, and new recruits, some women, but the majority teenage boys, pillaged and robbed the many homeless. In France, women who’d slept with Germans were put on parade but had to be protected to prevent the crowds from tearing them to shreds.[iv] And the occupying forces had to be kept out of trouble. Leonard Rapport, chronicler for the 101st Airborne, particularly known for their fighting during Battle of the Bulge, was also noted for its ability to have a good time. “Indeed, it was a social error to be caught without a corkscrew in Berchtesgaden,” writes Rapport.[v]
At nine a.m. Pat received the burgomaster “who bowed so low I thought I heard his short Bavarian leather pants crackle.” She ordered all able-bodied Germans to grow vegetables, then requisitioned food supplies for 600 displaced persons, including starving formerly enslaved laborers. She issued a proclamation requiring Nazi insignia to be removed from street signs and buildings, and was photographed burning them. She then began requisitioning necessities for the 101st Airborne Division’s quartermaster: “mess tables and chairs were needed, and also blackboards for the special service officer.” One of her prisoners, SS Lieutenant General Berger, “reluctantly surrendered” several million dollars in marks which he had buried under the floor of a barn. She ordered workers to report for duty to repair the railway line to Munich, which was needed for the transport of 55,000 prisoners of war. And so the day went, as she recounted how she dealt with problems ranging from forestry to the fate of the local church’s 15th-century canon. She admitted she was “not ready to tackle the futures” of two hundred orphaned babies, the product of Lebensborn, an SS-sponsored breeding program, abandoned not far from Berchtesgaden[vi] She ordered that any Jews who were found “to be given additional food since they had long starved,” and then appointed the only one located as interpreter for the US Army.[vii]
She’d scooped her friend and Columbia classmate Philip Hamburger, now a correspondent for the New Yorker. He too had plowed through the snow up to Eagle’s Nest on the day of its liberation but with the doyenne of female correspondents, Dorothy Thompson; he too had worked for the Office of War Information but under Pat, as she was the assistant to Elmer Davis, head of the whole organization; he too picked up souvenirs, sending Goering’s engraved calling card to Harold Ross, the New Yorker editor, who framed it for his office wall. Hamburger describes the Bavarian Alps as having a beauty “of a magnitude touching the threshold of pain” and the architecture of Eagle’s Nest as “the guardhouse of a state penitentiary” in an article he wrote about revisiting Berchtesgaden fifty years later for the New Yorker.[viii] Pat doesn’t mention him, although he was staying with other reporters in a chalet where she and John F. Kennedy was also billeted.
She was supposed to have governed for a week, according to a letter she wrote to her family, but after she liberated the bank so women could get money to buy food for their starving children, General Patton was so annoyed he shortened her term of office to a single day. She said he was already furious with her for leapfrogging ahead of him at Dachau, and had annoyed him further by using the toilet at Eagle’s Nest before it was cleared for mines. (There seems to have been a fixation on Hitler’s bathrooms. Lee Miller is photographed in his tub). As mayor, Pat paid off the midwife of an Italian girl who had just given birth, and the new mother wanted to name the boy after her. Instead, Pat suggested the child be christened with her family name Patton – and, of course, the general’s.
Among Pat’s responsibilities during her reign was Goering’s art collection. He had amassed more of the world’s art treasures than anyone in the world over the last ten years, acquiring, on average, three priceless works a week.[ix] Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, described Goering’s collection as “an odious hunting trophy, the fruit of the villainous plundering of jewels of European art.” [x] In May 1945, General Patton sent a telegram headlined TOP SECRET NO PRESS to the Monuments Men, a division of soldiers with expertise in art, which revealed that the Third Army had discovered a gargantuan salt mine, more than 2,000 feet deep and containing 35 miles of tunnels – and 4,000 pieces of art. More art was hidden near Berchestgaden. After Goering’s private railroad car was ransacked by locals, discarded picture frames suggested to Monument Man Captain Harry Anderson that further investigation was necessary. After chipping through an eighteen-inch-thick wall of an air raid shelter, his soldiers found five Rembrandts, a Van Gogh, and a Renoir – among many other paintings.[xi] More were hidden in Goering’s home, nearby caves, a monastery, and a garage beside a grocer’s. All had been moved from Goering’s estate Carinhall six months earlier. Anderson had the art stored in preparation for restoration and cataloguing. In June Pat, as mayor of Berchtesgaden, gave an order to dispatch equipment and firemen to protect the collection immediately, and they were to remain on duty around the clock.
Goering not only collected more of the world’s art treasures than anyone else, he also collected medals, far too many to wear all at once. He loved them, and there were rumors that he slept with them pinned to his pajamas.[xii] The last question Edda, his eight-year-old daughter, put to him before his suicide was “When you come home, will you please put on your rubber medals in the bath like people say you do?” [xiii] Such a remark from his own child might have revealed the humiliations he would’ve faced had he not taken his own life. He was wearing all his military crosses on May 9 in Augsburg for the photographers at his surrender, probably the last time he wore them. The officer in charge of Goring’s interrogation, Major Paul Kubala, said he had all the Goering medals he could find melted down, but Kubala left the service barely having escaped a court martial.[xiv] Irv Kupcinet, the legendary gossip columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times, reported that Pat had acquired most of Goering’s medals at a party after some drunk reporter started pinning them on her blouse, and she subsequently slipped out. How they came to be at the correspondents’ party where Pat walked off with so many is unknown. There still seems to be quite a few left over, judging from various displays on the internet, and an article on the fakes. [xv] [xvi] [xvii]
Pat gave me an iron cross set with amethyst our second visit. Not junk from a disused vanity drawer but heavy silver, quite beautiful, strung on a silver chain. I was touched, and wore it frequently before I suspected it might have less-than-positive associations, given her history. Had she been waiting for some innocent to come along and relieve her of it? The iron cross has been a German military decoration for centuries, although this one lacks the swastika in the center that the Nazis were so fond of.
Mine could have been worn on a ribbon.
Unterstein, where Anderson stored the art, is located four kilometers south of Berchtesgaden. A placard reading: “Hermann Goering’s Art Collection through the courtesy of the 101st Airborne Division” marked the gallery at the time. It had taken three days to move the 1,375 paintings, including five Rembrandts, and works by most European masters, including Gerard David, de Hooch, Van Dyck, Rubens, Canaletto, Boucher and Courbet from where they were hidden – and the collection was only a very small sampling of all the art Goering amassed.[xviii] Pat certainly visited Unterstein at least once, during a press conference mid-May[xix] since there is a press photo of her holding “Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery,” what was supposed to have been a Vermeer. She told us the officers suggested she take her pick of the art as a souvenir. She was smart to have chosen “Cupid Complaining to Venus” by Lucas Cranach instead of the Vermeer. Then valued at half a million dollars, it was soon determined to be a fake.[xx]
She told her children both that the Cranach was given to her at the warehouse and also that she took it from Goering’s own home, Carinhall. But had she ever visited? Pat opines in an interview that “[Goering] was perfectly capable of organizing Germany for another war,” describes Frau Goering as “a Broadway chorine down to the last mink coat,” and mentions that their basement held enough food to last another year, and “several hundred” of Goering’s toy trains, and that Frau Goering had kept a few masterpieces “to tide her and her daughter over a straitened period.”[xxi] Carinhall, where the trains were kept, was blown up by Goering on April 28, at least a week before his surrender, before Pat could’ve met him.
On June 11, after nearly a month in residence at Fischhorn Castle, the 101st escorted Frau Goering to the Veldenstein Castle, a property Goering inherited from his godfather and his mother’s Jewish lover.[xxii] Pat could have interviewed at least the Frau there. Was her familiarity with Goering due to an interview during his capture, that night she said she danced with him after his surrender? En route to Veldenstein, Goering’s trailer overturned on the road, and quite a bit of champagne and rum and cigarettes fell out, and perhaps also the fourteen bottles of brandy that Pat boasted of taking with her.[xxiii]
She was right about the Frau hoarding the rest of Goering’s masterpieces. American officials confiscated them after the jailed Goering requested one of his paintings be given to his interrogator.[xxiv]
Or did she win the painting in a poker game? She was an inveterate player, mentioning her winnings in many of her letters.
The painting, “Cupid Complaining to Venus,” is a little over three feet tall. Surely the 101st wrapped it up for her and shipped it, the way the Army did for Margaret Bourke-White.[xxv] The 42nd Infantry Division suggested Bourke-White take “a tall green metallic nude from Hitler’s study.” It wasn’t qualms of conscience that prevented her from getting the statue home, it disappeared en route into the hands of some other art lover. “Somewhere between the airfield at Munich and the airfield at Paris, my Hitler souvenirs evaporated,” admits Bourke-White. [xxvi] Even if the art were offered, Bourke-White and Pat had a moral responsibility not to take possession. Art is not a confiscated weapon. Pat doesn’t say a word about taking the painting in her letters home. It would change her life.
A buddy film based on the true story of a bunch of artsy officers trying to round up looted art treasures at the end of World War II, Monuments Men has all the elements of a blockbuster: death, warfare, intrigue – Cate Blanchett as the museum curator with a secret – and art with a capital A. Actor John Goodman huffs and puffs through basic training, part of the real Monuments Men’s preparation for removing and hiding artworks quickly near the frontlines, and the chatty German dentist who fixes Bill Murray’s toothache did indeed introduce the Monuments Men to his son-in-law, a former SS officer who knew which treasures were where. “Eighty percent of the story is still completely true and accurate, and almost all of the scenes happened,” insists George Clooney.[xxvii] During the war, three hundred and fifty art historians, curators, museum directors, artists, architects and educators – men and women – from thirteen countries not only recovered looted art and tried to return it to its rightful owners – a sort of band of militarized Robin Hoods – but also worked to dissuade Allied bombers from destroying enemy targets of cultural importance. .[xxviii]
But not even Clooney as both the director and the actor with a famous grin could save the film. Made about people wanting something other than money, its premise questioned whether art is worth putting lives in jeopardy and endangering military strategy. Was saving the Mona Lisa more valuable than saving a soldier? Faced with this serious conundrum, Clooney decided to inject humor and delayed its premiere by two months to re-edit. The result is stiff and contrived.
At the end of the war four American soldiers offered to return paintings stolen from the Schloss collection in exchange for $40,000, not a bad price. “My father told me the story of how he kicked them out, telling them they should be ashamed to be wearing US army uniforms,” said Alain Vernay, grandson of the collector Adolphe Schloss.[xxix]
Errors were made by military officials with regard to the distribution of booty. A Lieutenant Wallace L. Stephenson begged for the recovered diamond-encrusted Reichmarshall dagger so he could buy a chicken farm, and his commanding officer handed it over. An intelligence officer convinced Frau Goering that her husband was being released and in gratitude she relinquished a valuable sword.[xxx] One of the Monuments Men, Thomas Howe, later President of the Association of American Art Museum Directors, trustee of the American Federation of Arts, a member of the Fine Arts Committee for the White House and the Smithsonian Art Commission, and Chairman of the National Collection of Fine Arts, not to mention Director of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor for decades, determined that a sword given to Goering by Mussolini was not a “cultural object” and thereby allowed the troops to take it home for their clubroom.[xxxi] This casualness with regard to the definition of “cultural object” emphasizes the laxity of the immediate postwar period – but the Cranach would have definitely been a “cultural object.”
So many children of WWII vets are now trying to cash in on their parent’s loot that Antique Roadshow insists on strong provenance for every WWII object they consider. “The ‘Mona Lisa,” as it were, appears in just about every city we visit,” says Daile Kaplan, their photography expert.[xxxii]
As many as five thousand works of priceless abstract art were burnt in Berlin by the Nazis, piled in bonfires in 1939.[xxxiii] “No picture gets mercy,” wrote Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in his journal on January 13, 1938. He had modern art labelled degenerate – Kandinsky, Picasso, Chagall – and seized it from museums and private collectors. It was put on exhibit in an effort to educate the public on its ugliness, but ironically, the show was very popular and seen by a million Germans. The most valuable pieces were exchanged in the black market for foreign currency, arms and supplies. The rest? Maybe it was a fake burning, for propaganda reasons, and dummies burnt. Now and then, art listed as destroyed, turns up.
Consider the summer before Pat covered Dachau, when the owners of the elegant villas lining the nearby river would have had to close their windows, take their dinners inside instead of eating on the terrace. The children would have said something about the smell, the maids or the governesses using handkerchiefs to cover their noses. Since the camp ovens were used frequently, perhaps the townspeople coined euphemisms: the devil is farting. The wealthy ate their roast pig, while the other roasting went on and on, the smoke clouding their view. Did dogs snap and moan at the stink? Were there cupboards that never lost that smell so that years later, looking for an old coat, they’d open a door or a drawer and that lost time would come back, the sense of smell being the most potent holder of memories, a souvenir.
The 101st Airborne gallery was only open for a short time and then someone finally realized the security risks and closed it down completely, refusing even three star generals a viewing[xxxiv].
Terese Svoboda won the Graywolf prize in nonfiction with her first memoir, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent, about her uncle and executed black prisoners in postwar Japan, and has published twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, biography, translation and poetry. Forthcoming are two novels: Dog on Fire (U. of Nebraska Press) and Roxy and Coco (West Virginia University Press).
[i] “Joint Report with Allied Leaders on the Potsdam Conference” (August 2, 1945), Harry S. Truman Library & Museum/
[ii] Lochridge, Patricia. “I Governed Berchtesgaden.”Woman’s Home Companion. Vol. 72 No. 8. August 1945. 4.
[iv] Chicago Daily News 5 Aug 1944.
[v] Rapport, Leonard. Rendezvous with Destiny: A History Of The 101st Airborne. Lucknow Books. 2015. 751.
[vi] Ibid. 279.
[vii] “Only Jew Remaining in Berchtesgaden Placed on American Military Government Staff.” Jewish Telegraph Agency. July 23, 1945. https://www.jta.org/1945/07/23/archive/only-jew-remaining-in-berchtesgaden-placed-on-american-military-government-staff
[viii] Hamburger, Philip. “Beauty and the Beast.” New Yorker. 1 May 1995.
[ix] Wildman, Sarah. “The Revelations of a Nazi Art Catalogue.” New Yorker. 12 Feb 2016.
[x] Wildman, Sarah. The Revelations of a Nazi Art Catalogue. New Yorker.12 Feb 2018.
[xi] Ring, Jim. Storming the Eagle’s Nest: Hitler’s War in the Alps. n.p.
[xii] Fox, Louise. Daughter of the Reich: The Incredible Life of Louise Fox. Exisle Publishing. 2015. 139.
[xiii] David Irving. Goring. Parforce UK pdf. 1989. 748. https://archive.org/details/IrvingDavidGoeringABiographyEN2002846S.
[xiv] Alford, Kenneth D. Hermann Goring and the Nazi Art Collection: The Looting of Europe’s Art Treasures and Their Dispersal After World War II. Mcfarland & Co. 2012. 140.
[xv] Maerz, Diertrich. “Dietrich Maerz on Goring’s Grand Crosses.” Fake Nazi VIP Memorabilia. 5 Dec 2020.
[xvi] Stump, W.D. “The Goring Surrender Medals.” Great War Forum. 2002. https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/84043-blue-max/.
[xviii] Alford, Kennth D. Hermann Goring and the Nazi Art Collection: The Looting of Europe’s Art Treasures and Their Dispersal After World War II. Mcfarland & Co 2012. 135
[xix] Brooks, Richard. “National gallery admits painting may be looted.” The Sunday Times. 26 Nov 2006.
[xx] Holloway, Kylie. “The Man Who Sold an Art Forgery to the Nazis… and Almost Got Away With It.” Museum Hack. 19 November 2019. https://museumhack.com/anniversary-forgery-meegeren/
[xxi] Leimert, Virginia “Woman Correspondents Shows Souvenirs of Her Exploits.”Chicago Daily News. [clipping] 1946.
[xxii] Freitag, Christian H. (2015). Ritter, Reichsmarschall & Revoluzzer. Aus der Geschichte eines Berliner Landhauses. Berlin: Friedenauer Brücke. 2015. 25-45.
[xxiii] Alford, Kenneth D. Nazi Plunder: Great Treasure Stories Of World War II. NY: Da Capo Press; 2003. 53.
[xxiv] Alford, Kenneth D. Hermann Goring and the Nazi Art Collection: The Looting of Europe’s Art Treasures and Their Dispersal After World War II. Mcfarland & Co 2012. 140.
[xxv] Bourke-White. 164.
[xxvi] Bourke-White, Margaret. Portrait of Myself. Simon & Schuster: NY. 1963. 164.
[xxvii] Clooney, George. Entertainment Weekly. 12 August 2013.
[xxviii] “The Monuments Men 2014.” History vs. Hollywood. https://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/monuments-men.php
[xxix] Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa. Knopf 1994.
[xxx] Alford. Nazi Plunder: Great Treasure Stories of World War II. 53
[xxxi] Bailey, Martin. “Growing evidence that Göring seized National Gallery’s Cranach from its pre-war owner.” The Art Newspaper. 31 Dec 2006.
[xxxii] Daile Kaplan email to author. 17 July 2020.
[xxxiii] “Conspiracies swirl in 1939 Nazi art burning” Deutsche Welle. n.d. https://www.dw.com/en/conspiracies-swirl-in-1939-nazi-art-burning/a-17510022.
[xxxiv] “Harry Vernon Anderson (1902-1983). Monuments Men Foundation. https://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/anderson-maj-harry-v.