In 1944, before the Allied invasion of Europe, Justice Owen J. Roberts met with Brig. Gen. William J. Donovan of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and requested that a unit be formed that could deal with art looted under German authority. The inter-branch directive which authorized the group, known as the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU), described their mission:
“It will be the primary mission of the Art Looting Investigation Unit to collect and disseminate such information bearing on the looting, confiscation and transfer by the enemy of art properties in Europe, and on individuals or organizations involved in such operations or transactions, as will be of direct aid to the United States agencies empowered to effect restitution of such properties and prosecution of war criminals.”
Much of the looted art went to one of Hitler’s pet projects: the Führermuseum. The Führermuseum was to be built in Linz, Austria, with the purpose of displaying art that had been plundered by the Nazis during World War II.
In the Consolidated Interrogation Reports relating to the unrealized Führermuseum, the ALIU made record of the confiscated art and the methods by which it was acquired.
Usually, the Allied groups focused on returning the art where it belonged (most notably the American ALIU) would work to bring the art back to its original country and leave it at that, hoping that the country’s authorities would find a way to complete the process of restitution to the owners themselves. In some cases, the artworks were successfully returned to their previous owners, but it is estimated that more than half of the artworks never made it back to their original homes.