The Monuments Men

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Leslie Walter Jefferson ( 1891-1984 )

Leslie Walter Jefferson was born in Owatonna, Minnesota on July 23, 1891 to Danish immigrants. He became proficient in German from a young age, completing four years of foreign language study in high school before concentrating on the subject at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Although he originally expressed an interest in business, his focus soon turned to teaching. A natural educator, Jefferson worked as a teacher, a high school principal, and finally Superintendent of Schools in Lake City, Minnesota. In 1916 he accepted an appointment as superintendent of public high schools in Manila, Philippines.

Jefferson served in the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps during World War I. Between the wars, he continued his military training, completing programs of the Command and General Staff and the Army War College. During World War II, he worked in the logistics division of the Department of Supply in Washington, D.C. and at Camp Haan Army Base in Riverside, California. In 1944 he was deployed overseas first to London, France and finally Germany. His proficiency in German and knowledge of military organization earned him a position on General Eisenhower’s General Staff, working directly under General Lucius D. Clay, Eisenhower’s trusted deputy. General Clay later received promotions to the highest offices in Allied Military Government, including Deputy Governor of Germany and the top spot in OMGUS, the Office of Military Government, United States. Excelling in this leadership position, Jefferson participated in early logistical plans for the German occupation.

Jefferson became involved with the MFAA following the end of hostilities during negotiations for the restitution of looted works of art and other cultural objects recovered by the Monuments Men in the U.S. Zone of Occupation. General Clay appointed Jefferson as Director of the Reparations, Deliveries, and Restitution Division of the U.S. Group Control Council for Germany. At headquarters in Berlin, Jefferson formulated policies for implementing international agreements on reparations and coordinated the effort to adequately store non-military property at newly opened collecting points for looted or displaced objects. Jefferson was responsible for overseeing the allocation of scarce materials to the most deserving projects, ensuring the proper waterproofing and heating of the collecting points, and scheduling labor. In the year that followed, Jefferson remained a leader in the effort to return thousands of looted objects to the countries from which they had been stolen. His later appointments included Chief of the OMGUS Property Control Branch and Special Advisor to the Director on Property Control. For his devoted efforts, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.

Following his return to the United States in December 1946, Jefferson worked as the commanding officer at U.S. Army recruiting offices across southern California. In 1951, after nearly 34 consecutive years of active service, Jefferson retired from the U.S. Army. He settled into a quiet life in Santa Barbara, California, where he served as President of the Santa Barbara Cosmopolitan Club and the Riviera Property Owners’ Association. He died in Santa Barbara on June 9, 1984.