The Monuments Men

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Charles Bernholz ( 1916-1977 )

Charles H. Bernholz was a member of the MFAA in Italy from January to October, 1945. Prior to military service he worked in sales and delivery for the family business, the Miriam Street Tea and Coffee Company in Valley Stream, New York. He was also an amateur photographer, a pursuit that played a significant role in his work with the MFAA.

Bernholz enlisted in the army in October of 1942. After completing basic training at Camp Lee, Virginia, he was trained in refrigeration engineering in Bloomington, Illinois. In June of 1943 he was shipped to North Africa. From there he fought in Operation Avalanche—the allied invasion of Italy—followed by the Volturno Campaign and Operation Shingle—the amphibious landing at Anzio. On February 7, 1944 he was in Nettuno, Italy where he witnessed the attack on an ammunition convoy by German planes. Bernholz rescued a convoy driver from a burning truck at risk from exploding ammunition, an act of bravery for which he earned a Bronze Star.

In January of 1945 Bernholz was assigned to Captain Deane Keller, MFAA officer in Italy, as driver and photographer. As Keller’s assistant he was directly involved in MFAA efforts, particularly in the return of art treasures from the Alto Adige region of Northern Italy to the city of Florence in July of that year. As official photographer, Bernholz created visual documentation of MFAA work that underscores the vulnerability of cultural treasures during wartime. His photographs not only record the condition of works of art upon their discovery by the allies, but illustrate the challenges of the MFAA in safeguarding and returning these works. The photographs are now part of a collection of nearly 12,000 images in the Deane Keller Papers at Yale University.

Bernholz was discharged from the Army in November of 1945. He returned to New York state where he was employed as a tool and instrument maker for Ranger Aircraft Engines in Farmingdale, then later worked at Fairchild Engines, Sylvania Corning Nuclear Corporation, and Brookhaven National Laboratory. He remained an avid photographer and maintained a lifelong friendship with Keller. The two men planned to publish a book on their work together in the MFAA, and while it was never brought to fruition, the project resulted in nearly thirty years of correspondence that provides unusual insight into their wartime experiences. Charles Bernholz died April 3, 1977 at 61 years of age.


*The Foundation wishes to express thanks to Kathleen Kenyon for her contribution to this biographical profile.