The Monuments Men

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Bernard Taper ( b. 1918 )

After serving as an infantryman during the war, Taper was an art intelligence officer for the MFAA section of the U.S. Military Government in Germany. He interrogated numerous Nazi officials and collaborators involved in art operations, including Albert Speer, Kajetan Mühlmann, Karl Haberstock and Walter Hofer. At Berchtesgaden, he and his colleagues worked to recover the objects from Hermann Göring’s collection, which the Reichmarschall had evacuated from Carinhall in the last days of the war. Taper also worked to track down the looted Goudstikker collection, stolen by the Nazis from the Goudstikker family in Holland. One of his greatest, yet most frustrating, assignments was to find the missing Raphael from the Czartoryski Collection in Cracow. He worked closely with Polish art officer Karol Estreicher on this hunt, but tragically the Raphael was never found and remains missing today. Speaking about his experience years later, Taper said this about the MFAA:

It had been gratifying to me that ours was an organization that was concerned with preserving Germany’s art heritage as well as with restituting to other nations the things that Germany had pillaged from them. It was good, I thought, that amid all the sickening evidence of man’s depravity and destructiveness I should have had the opportunity to help preserve some of the things mankind has done that one could not only bear to contemplate but even take joy in.

Taper was born in London and came to the United States in 1929, at the age of eleven. He earned his A.B. at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1943. During his MFAA years, he wrote free-lance articles on Nazi and postwar Germany for the New Yorker, The Nation, and Harpers’s. After his military service, Taper went on to a long and distinguished career as a journalist, author, and professor. From 1949-55, he was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, where he won a Press Club award for a housing discrimination story. In 1955, Taper earned his M.A. at Stanford, which he attended on a creative writing fellowship. From 1956 to 1995, he was a contract writer for the New Yorker and from 1970-98, he was a professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley.

Bernard Taper has written about numerous subjects, including the arts, civil rights, and urban affairs. He is the author of four books, including Balanchine, the authoritative biography on the famous New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine. Other books are: The Arts in Boston; Cellist in Exile: A Portrait of Pablo Casals; and Gomillion versus Lightfoot: The Right to Vote in Apartheid Alabama, which was named one of the 54 most notable books of 1962 by the American Library Association. Taper is also the editor of the anthology, Mark Twain’s San Francisco. In 2004, he donated his Balanchine photograph collection to the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum.