Toledo tie to "The Monuments Men" - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

Toledo tie to "The Monuments Men"

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It's been called the world's greatest treasure hunt: finding all the artwork looted by the Nazis in World War II. There was a special group called "The Monuments Men," who helped find a lot of the lost work. The story will play out on the silver screen later this week, and there is a Toledo tie to that impressive operation.

One of the directors of the Toledo Museum of Art was involved in what some say was the best part of the operation: returning some of those magnificent pieces to their rightful owners.

His name was Otto Wittmann, and he spent more than two decades at the museum. Because of him, many world-famous treasures ended up in Toledo.

Wittmann worked with the Art Looting Investigation Unit of the Office of Strategic Services.

Julie McMaster is the archivist and database manager at the museum. She had a chance to meet Wittmann in 1999.

"This was one very visual and public way we could make something that was very wrong right again, and he was part of that, and it's special that he was part of our museum too," she says.

Wittmann first came to the Toledo Museum of Art in 1946.

"He was truly a remarkable man, and Toledo was certainly lucky to have him as part of our museum."

There are many paintings in the collection at The Toledo Museum of Art, because of the connections Whitman made during World War II.

"He was able to purchase works of art, because of his connections with dealers and collectors and museum professionals in North America and Europe. No one else had those connections to make these purchases."

One of the most spectacular masterpieces that came to the museum during his tenure is The Crowning of Saint Catherine by Peter Paul Rubens. It was one of the paintings actually uncovered by The Monuments Men. "This was found in the salt mines and there is a picture of them unraveling it and figuring out what it is."

After retiring from TMA in 1976, Wittmann moved to California, where he died in 2001. An interesting side note: Wittmann's wife Margaret also worked for the Office of Strategic Services, so she too was a part of making sure the artwork made its way home.

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