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Rose Antonia Maria Valland, born to a modest home, was one of the greatest unsung heroines of World War II. She earned two fine arts degrees and then received two art history degrees. In 1932, she began work at the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris as a volunteer and rose to become its manager. Following the German Occupation of Paris in 1940, the Nazis took over the Jeu de Paume and began using it as a warehouse for art stolen from French Jews and other collectors. Jacques Jaujard, director of the French Musées Nationaux, told Rose Valland to remain at work at the museum and spy on the Germans. The rest of the staff was dismissed by the Germans, so Valland became one of the few French witnesses to the Nazi looting. With her quiet demeanor and unassuming manner, the Nazis never realized that Rose spoke German. Under the pretense of managing the building, Valland tracked the shipments of thousands of stolen works of art dispatched by the Nazis from Paris to locations throughout the German Reich. She gathered information from patriotic drivers, guards, and packers, passing it on to Jaujard and the French Resistance. It was a dangerous and even life-threatening job. After the Allied D-Day landing in France in June 1944, Valland was able to reveal the details of Nazi looting to the "Monuments Men" -- the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) team of experts sent by the Allies to recover and preserve European art works. One of their greatest discoveries of treasures was at the castle of Neuschwanstein, where Valland’s documentation helped MFAA officers understand exactly what artworks belonged to whom, and helped expedite the restitution process. After the war, Rose Valland was made a captain in the French Army in Germany, where she personally assisted in recovering looted art, and also helped in the reconstruction of German museums. She described her experiences in a book, Le Front de L’Art, which inspired the 1964 film The Train. She received the Legion of Honor, the Medal of the Résistance, and was made Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government for her heroism. The USA awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she received the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany as well. Despite these honors, Valland died in relative obscurity. She was buried in her home village of Saint-Etienne-de-Saint-Geoirs, where the Association de la Mémoire de Rose Valland was created in her honor.
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