Agnes von Rechberg Risom (1921-2009)
Born in 1921, Agnes von Rechberg grew up in Grafing, a small town outside of Munich, Germany. An avid reader, she developed a natural gift for music and languages from a young age. She studied piano as a child and later became a certified interpreter of both French and English.
Von Rechberg served as Chief Secretary and Administrative Assistant at the Munich Central Collecting Point from July 1945 to April 1947. Established in the Führerbau and the Verwaltungsbau, (buildings that had served as Hitler’s office, and the headquarters of the Nazi Party, respectively) in June 1945, the collecting point would become the largest of its kind. Through its doors passed more than one million works of art, furniture, and other cultural objects looted from their countries of origin by the Nazis. Upon arrival at the collecting point, objects were unloaded, unpacked, photographed, registered, identified, and sorted for eventual return to their respective countries of origin.
As the collecting point grew in size and influence, so did von Rechberg’s responsibilities. In addition to supervising all typing, Agnes was in charge of maintaining the personnel records for hundreds of workers, the preparation of restitution receipts, the issuing of security passes into the Collecting Point, and corresponding with representatives of foreign nations. She also served as typist and interpreter for the collecting point’s Executive Officer, Monuments Man Lt. Cdr. J. Hamilton Coulter. In addition to Coulter, she came into daily contact with the many Monuments Men working at the collecting point, including its Director, Lt. Craig Hugh Smyth. She also met many of the foreign liaison officers who visited the collecting point to identify and collect items looted from their home countries, including Capt. Marcelle Minet and Capt. Hubert de Brye from France, Lt. Col. Alphonse Vorenkamp from Holland, and Maj. Karol Estreicher from Poland.
In May 1947 Agnes married Monuments Man Cpl. Ole C. Risom, Coulter’s assistant and driver. Risom had arrived at the collecting point in July 1945. The two soon fell in love. When Agnes left the collecting point in mid-April 1947, Monuments Man Capt. Edwin C. Rae, Chief of the MFAA Restitution Branch, said her departure “deprived this organization of one of its best members.”
Ole and Agnes Risom settled in New York City, where Agnes worked as an administrative assistant in her brother-in-law’s design office. They later moved to Long Island, where they raised three children and Agnes managed the book department of a local gift store. In 1980 she opened and managed her own store, Book Ends Cottage.
In later years, Agnes spoke with enthusiasm of her two years at the collecting point and the thrill of working with the world’s top art historians and museum directors. She described a palpable sense of determination and dedication in which those of many nationalities worked together toward a common goal. She remembered fondly the sense of camaraderie between the workers, who were connected by the joy of their work.
Agnes was always very proud of her participation in the Munich Central Collecting Point. She was delighted to live long enough to see the attention and interest The Monuments Men were receiving. A light which she thought had been extinguished was shining again on an important part of history- and in a small way, on her’s too.
Agnes Risom died in 2009.