Doda Conrad (1905-1997)
Polish-born bass singer Doda Conrad was the son of Dr. Walther H. Freund, a paediatrician in Breslau, and famous German-born soprano Marya Freund. Born Konrad Freund but called Doda because his younger brother Stefan couldn’t say his name, he first studied in Milan, then New York, before travelling to London to study under Blanche Marchesi.
He lived most of his life in France and performed his first recital in Paris in 1932. He was “an intelligent and thoughtful musician” who was known for interpreting songs by foreign composers. Extremely well-connected to many great artistic icons of his day, he became a renowned performer across the globe.
Conrad enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1942 and served across Europe and the Mediterranean, from Algeria to Naples and Marseilles. While in Germany serving under General Lucius Clay, he met Monuments Man Lt. Col. Mason Hammond, who suggested that Conrad join the MFAA as an assistant to Monuments Man Capt. Calvin Hathaway. In the summer of 1945 he traveled through Germany to Berlin, where he witnessed firsthand the destruction sustained by the Friedrichshain Flak Tower. According to Conrad, the fifth floor of this immense, bombproof shelter had been used to store artworks removed from the Berlin Museums in the final weeks of the war. A fire which broke out in the tower was allegedly caused by Russian soldiers when they entered the city. As a result, many works of art were destroyed. Conrad described the scene as a room filled with dust and ashes up to their knees along with paintings by Raphael and Bellini, the Pergamon Altar, and dozens of porcelain and bronze sculptures. He and other officers sorted through the debris, collecting what was salvageable into baskets.
While in Berlin, Conrad encountered opposition to the primary goals of the MFAA. In the mess hall one evening, a Russian-American Colonel informed him of a collection of over one hundred small, eighteenth-century porcelain figurines from the Palace of Sans-Souci in his possession. While Conrad asserted that the objects should be entrusted to the MFAA to be returned to the palace, the Colonel argued that, as a victor of the war, he should be allowed to retain the figurines for his children’s enjoyment. Feeling that this was a complete contradiction to the ethics of the MFAA, he promptly reported the Colonel and the objects were eventually returned.
Conrad was transferred to the Munich Central Collecting Point in the fall of 1945 and began his work sealing damaged roofs above the stores of looted furniture. In addition, he was also responsible for the vehicles stationed at the collecting point and a group of one hundred guards.In the course of his work, he deduced that three out of the five paintings by Jan Vermeer being held at the collecting point were of questionable legitimacy. True to his suspicions, the paintings were later confirmed as forgeries by Hans van Meegeren. Conrad also participated in the recoveries of the Veit Stoss altarpiece and a prized Pleyel harpsichord belonging to the acclaimed harpsichordist Wanda Landowska.
Following his service as a Monuments Man, Conrad resumed his career as a successful vocalist, living and performing in New York. By 1965 he had retired from his singing career and became devoted to education according to the methods of his teacher Nadia Boulanger. He settled in Paris, where he founded the 'Société l'Erémurus' in the Paris Salle Gaveau, and established the Saison Musicale de Royaumont, which he led as director from 1956 to 1965. The Journées Musicales of Langeais were also under his leadership. He died in Paris in December 1997. His autobiography, Dodascalies, was published posthumously.
Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.