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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany Honors U.S. Officer for Art Heroics

BONN, Germany -- Walter Farmer fought the Germans during World War II. On Friday, the former U.S. Army officer is getting a hero's medal from his erstwhile enemies.


In November 1945, Farmer protested his Army superiors' orders to pack up 202 precious paintings by Botticelli, Duerer, Bosch, Rembrandt and others that were under his guardianship in Wiesbaden and ship them to the United States. The German-owned art works were sent anyway. But Farmer's resistance created a huge stir, and the items were returned to Germany after four years.


"Back then, I thought the Lord had reached down, touched my head and said: 'Walter, save art,'" the 84-year-old Farmer said in a telephone interview from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.


On Friday, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel is giving him the Large Service Cross, a coveted medal for foreign civilians, at a ceremony in Bonn.


"Walter Farmer decisively protested to his own military superiors against taking cultural goods as war booty and appealed for respect for the cultural identity even of the enemy," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week.


But Germany has ulterior motives.


Ever since unification, Germany has sought to retrieve 200,000 German museum pieces purloined by Soviet troops during World War II.


Officials won't say so on the record. But Germany hopes that making a role model out of Farmer will put a dent in Russian resistance to giving up the art loot.


After the Nazis' defeat, some U.S. officials had been talking about keeping German-owned art as war reparations. On Nov. 6, 1945, Farmer was ordered to prepare 202 paintings for shipment to the United States for a supposedly limited but undetermined stay.


Fifty-two of the most fragile paintings were sent back in 1948. The rest were returned by 1949 after being shown around the United States. They are now at the Gemaelde Galerie, a museum in Berlin.


After the war, Farmer continued his efforts to preserve art, becoming co-founder and first president of Houston's Contemporary Art Museum, and co-founder of the Miami University Art Museum in Oxford, Ohio.