Daniel J. Kern (1908-1987)
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Daniel J. Kern began his military training as a Battalion Adjutant Cadet Lieutenant in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) while attending Fordham University. After graduating in 1930, Kern served in the Organized Reserve Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 621st Regiment until 1935. With the onset of World War II, he enlisted in March 1941 and began working as an instructor of Infantry Tactics and Weapons at Camp Wolters, Texas, the largest infantry replacement training center in the United States.
Kern was commissioned into the MFAA in January 1943 as a 1st Lieutenant. By this time, he was proficient in five languages including Latin and Ancient Greek. Kern’s years before the war were devoted to the study of art in all its forms. In addition to teaching Classical languages at Brooklyn’s St. Francis Preparatory School for six years, he attended the Brooklyn Institute and became a member of the Art Students League of New York in 1934. From 1936 to 1940 he immersed himself in the New York art scene as a freelance artist, writer, muralist, theatrical set designer and lecturer on fine arts. He spent the spring of 1938 in Mexico City before working as an aide to renowned Chinese painter Chang Shan Tse while the artist was in New York from 1939 to 1940.
Kern was assigned to the headquarters of the Advanced Section, Communications Zone in March 1945. Two months later, he was responsible for searching the house of former Nazi Governor-General Hans Frank in Neuhaus near Schliersee, where he seized paintings belonging to the Czartoryski Collection including Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, Rembrandt’s The Good Samaritan, and several gilded artifacts belonging to St. Mary’s Basilica in Cracow, Poland. Kern was the Monuments Officer for Bavaria when Monuments Officer Lt. Craig H. Smyth arrived in Munich in June 1945 to set up the Munich Central Collecting Point. After working with Lt. Smyth on the plans for the collecting point, he played an important role in transporting some of the many looted items that would fill it. Kern uncovered eight art depots belonging to Maria Dietrich, the preferred art dealer of Adolf Hitler, after following leads supplied by her former chauffeur.
Daniel Kern died in November 1987 in Hendersonville, NC, at the age of 79, and was later buried in Forest Hills, NY. Just one year before he died, he donated his writings to the Brooklyn Historical Society. In them, he recorded his childhood memories of early twentieth century Brooklyn including Coney Island’s Luna Park, the silent movie industry and his Jewish heritage. More than just the reminiscences of a loyal Brooklynite, Kern’s memoirs serve as a continuation of his many contributions to cultural preservation.
Photo courtesy of the Archives of American Art.