The Monuments Men

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George Albert Selke ( 1888-1970 )

Born in La Crosse, Wisconsin on June 28, 1888, George Albert Selke was a champion of public education in Minnesota. He taught at multiple rural schools before studying at St. Cloud State Teachers College (today St. Cloud State University) and the University of Minnesota. In the years following World War I, he served as Superintendent of Schools, Director of Elementary and High Schools for the Minnesota State Department of Education, and Director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Youth Administration (NYA) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). After completing a Master’s degree from Columbia University in 1926, he lectured at the University of Minnesota and St. Cloud State Teacher’s College, where he also served as President. In 1937 the college’s football field was named Selke Field in his honor.

In August 1943 Selke took a leave of absence to join the war effort. Stationed at SHAEF headquarters in London, he helped devise the occupation plans for Germany and Austria before being transferred to the Allied Military Government in Italy and Austria. He was assigned temporary duty with the MFAA in November 1945 as Acting Chief of the Education and Religion Office for Land Salzburg. In this position, he worked alongside Monuments Men Capt. Charles R. Sattgast and Lt. Col. Ernest T. DeWald to facilitate the recovery and return of works of art and other cultural objects looted by the Nazis and stored within the jurisdiction of the United States Forces, Austria (USFA). During his brief service as a Monuments Man, Selke participated in the movement of the Hertziana Library Collection from the Hallein salt mines, the transfer of Polish works of art and books from Schloss Fichhorn to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, and the removal of a collection of Tibetan artifacts from Schloss Mittersill.

Though he returned to the United State in June 1946 and became Chancellor of the University of Montana, he was called back to Germany in 1951. There, he served as Deputy Chief of the Education and Cultural Relations Division of the Allied High Commission for Germany (HICOG). He was also selected as Chief of the Division of Cultural Affairs. One of only five Americans appointed to the United States Educational Commission, he played an important role in the postwar planning of West Germany’s education system.

After completing his service with HICOG in 1953, Selke returned home to Minnesota and became a legal advisor to Governor Orville Freeman. Selke followed Freeman to Washington, D.C. when the latter was named Secretary of Agriculture in the Kennedy Administration. Selke reportedly refused an invitation from Senator and future Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey to run for Governor of Minnesota, instead choosing an appointment as part-time consultant and advisor to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. He was elected President of the American Association of Teachers Colleges, member of the National Education Association, and member of the National Committee on Colleges and Civil Defense. He authored Rural School Administration and Supervision (1926) and Handbook for County Superintendents of Schools (1935).

George Selke died in Portland, Oregon on October 2, 1970. In October 2003, St. Cloud State University hosted “Salute to Selke,” an outdoor pep rally commemorating his years of devoted service to not only the university but the entire state of Minnesota.