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WAM Updates are short, informal posts that put the spotlight on small, but exciting, Museum-related projects, such as the addition of a new painting or sculpture to a gallery. They also serve as updates on staff, new services or programs, and other WAM news.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Flight from France: Arrested! (3/4)

Today's WAM Update is part three of a series based on Dr. Richard Neumann's account of his journey escaping Nazi-occupied France in 1943. In the previous sections, he and his wife, Alice, left Paris and crossed France with the help of their guide, "Mr. P." They are now in the unoccupied territory of Vichy France, but the drive towards the Spanish border almost immediately goes wrong.

Dr. Neumann and his art collection are the subject of our ongoing exhibition, "What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann (and the Search to get it Back)," on view through January 2022. This narrative is shared with the permission of Dr. Neumann's family.


After about 20 minutes, a rather old, not very trustworthy-looking automobile arrived, filled with the baskets of chickens, geese, etc. as well as with our hand luggage. The driver who now took over was unfriendly right from the start, cursing under his breath. It was clear that he undertook this drive very reluctantly.

An outdoor cafe, small round tables facing a street with heavy foot traffic. Two uniformed German soldiers sit at the nearest, watching people pass. Black and white.
German Luftwaffe soldiers at a Paris cafe, 1941
(German Federal Archives)

After six kilometers, he stopped in a larger town in front of a bakery, and declared that he could not drive any further until he had something to eat. We remained seated in the auto, impatient to hear something from our pilot, and above all, anxious to continue our drive toward our destination. As we were waiting, two local civilians came upon the driver—who was eating—and made angry accusations that he had refused to give them a ride earlier, and now had in fact taken two passengers on board.

At this moment, Mr. P. arrived at the auto […] Both the civilians spoke harshly to him, showing papers identifying themselves as members of the special border police, and asked for his documents. He was able to show that he was a French citizen, and also that his military discharge papers were in order. However, this did not satisfy them and they then also asked for our identification papers, from which they could see right away that we had crossed the border without “laissez-passer” (legal permission). Whereupon they declared us under arrest and I had to follow them to the Police Station, while my wife was allowed to stay with the automobile and our possessions.

Once at the police station, both of the Inspectors told me “…you will be turned over to the German Authorities…” I became very much afraid. All my protestations, that I was a Czech citizen, 62 years old, and had sufficient funds for my subsistence, were useless.

Three German soldiers are arresting a young man, handcuffing him. At least five more are lined up facing the buildings behind them.
German soldiers and prisoners, July 1944
(German Federal Archive)

[…] I was taken back to the automobile, and my wife gave me 18,000 French francs, which I showed them. In her great fright, as I was led back to the police station, my wife took the money out of the briefcase and placed it in the travel-bag of Mr. P., without having the opportunity to tell him that she was doing so. Shortly thereafter, she was also taken to the police station and advised of what lay before her, e.g. “…being turned over to the German authorities, etc.” My wife, who had until now showed herself remarkably courageous and able, burst into tears.

All seemed to no avail and made absolutely no impression on the supervising policeman. We were officially processed, asked about a lot of irrelevant matters, and the writing of a long complaint was begun. I continually protested that we had been in an untenable and dangerous situation and as Czech citizens were deserving of special consideration. One of the policemen present seemed to not totally ignore my arguments, and tried to find among the various regulations a paragraph which might help us.

We were sitting on a light wooden bench without a back support, and as I rose in order to show the Police inspector my passport, the bench tipped over and my wife fell to the ground. This, as well as our totally distraught appearance, seemed finally to awaken some small amount of pity.

[After about 7 hours in custody, the police decided that in view of the facts Neumann argued above, the police decided to submit the case to a French tribunal, who would determine if they should be delivered to German authorities or permitted to leave. It was now about 5pm.] 

[…] After this decision about our future, we […] were given permission to look around for private quarters, with the obligation to present ourselves at the police station twice daily, and to not leave the vicinity.

Thereupon we went with the friendly police inspector on a search for a place to stay […] No room was to be found in the entire town and after a very long search the police inspector finally declared that he was not responsible for finding a room for us, and that, if we were unable to find a place, he would simply take us to jail. At this last moment, my wife addressed a woman who had been leaning out of her window and who appeared to be somewhat sympathetic, and asked if there was not anywhere that she could find a room for us. The woman softened, and while declaring that she had neither room nor bed available […] she could let us spend the night sitting on two chairs. We were glad even with this result, and advised the Police Station accordingly.

[They also found that during their time at the station, the automobile, their luggage, Mr. P. and the woman who had helped him had all boarded a train for the Neumanns’ intended destination in B. Mr. P. promised to return in the morning with news of their luggage and money.] 

Richard and Alice Neumann in black coats and hats stand on a sidewalk by a wroght iron fence.
Undated photograph of Richard and Alice Neumann,
taken in France

We were dead tired and hungry, but there was little to eat…a piece of cheese and a little bread was the substance of our dinner…and we then took possession of our night’s lodging on the two chairs in the kitchen of the good Frenchwoman, where it was at least somewhat dry and warm. Despite the frequent, and not altogether quiet passage of the other guests past our room, we fell asleep surprisingly quickly, tired and stressed as we were, and passed the night.

There could be no thought of washing, or other forms of toilet, and our appearance, covered as we were with layers of mud and dirt, wet and bedraggled gave no hint that we might be persons of culture and refinement.


For the moment, the Neumanns were safe--but still before them still lay the tribunal, and the crossing into Spain. In addition, due to pressure from Germany, it was becoming increasingly difficult for "non-Aryans" to book passage on ships out of Europe. Learn the resolution of these difficulties in the final installment of this WAM Update series.

(German Federal Archive photographs licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.)

Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-247-0775-38 / Langhaus / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J27289 / Koll / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Flight from France: The Demarcation Line (2/4)

In 1943, Dr. Richard Neumann and his wife, Alice--already refugees from Nazi-occupied Austria--arranged to have themselves smuggled out of France. In part one of this narrative, we saw them make arrangements with a guide known as "Mr. P." to leave their temporary home in Paris and make their way south, bringing only a few pieces of luggage and some currency obtained by selling part of their art collection. In the next stage of their journey, they must cross the border from Nazi-occupied France into unoccupied Vichy France.

Dr. Neumann and his art collection are the focus of WAM's ongoing exhibition, "What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann (and the Search to Get it Back)," on view until January 2022. This narrative was written by Dr. Neumann, and shared with the permission of his family.


The plan for the forthcoming border crossing made me very concerned, especially in light of the amount of French francs and foreign currency we carried, which in the event we fell into the hands of the Germans might result in our being severely punished not only for crossing the border illegally, but also as currency smugglers.

A map of Europe showing the journey from Austria to Paris, south through Vichy to Bilbao Spain and across the ocean to Havana
Richard and Alice Neumann's journey, from Vienna, Austria to Havana, Cuba

In any case, I wrapped the briefcase in which we had all our money in a plaid blanket, and gave this to our French guide, and hid as best I could from my wife the worry occasioned by the change in the program. In the farm, we were forbidden to go near a window, or even to venture into the open courtyard, because of the danger that someone might notice our presence. Meanwhile, a number of people assembled in the kitchen, one man with a dog, and several equipped with bicycles. The weather had, if anything, gotten worse, and it rained buckets. After a rest of about three-quarters of an hour, a genuine creeping patrol was organized. First went the man with the dog. Then the various bicyclists, at distances of about 500 feet apart. [Behind this group] went my wife and I. Finally, our guide brought up the rear. We were cautioned not to make the least noise, and to cross open areas where we might be seen bent over and as rapidly as possible.

We waded along behind bushes, in roadside gullies, through patches of forest, being always careful to wait until the person ahead of us gave a sign. […] After about twenty minutes, we were climbing a steep hill, when suddenly a dog’s loud barking could be heard from the top, and those ahead of us made wild signs to back up, whereupon we turned around as fast as possible. We ran as fast as we could down the hill, and I saw our guide throw my briefcase, wrapped in its blanket into a thick bush […] he led us, quite agitated, into a gully which was hidden from the forest, and there he had us lie silently in deep water and covered with dirt. […] We heard two shots, and the man with the dog never returned to us. Only later, after we were over the border, did we learn that he was stopped by a German sentry and arrested, and that thereby attention was diverted from us others.  

After three quarters of an hour, the old peasant woman was the first who dared to leave our hiding place, and gave a sign that the coast was clear. With one person less, our little group started to move again. We now made a detour, over very difficult terrain; we had to jump and scramble, and my wife had to be carried or lifted repeatedly over difficult passages by our guide. After a time we saw a road in the distance, which we approached carefully, taking every opportunity to remain in cover. Our guide reconnoitered the possibilities for crossing, and gave a sign to cross the road as rapidly as possible. About 600 to 1,000 feet beyond the road, as we went through a high cornfield, he told us “...the German line is now behind us, now we only have to cross the French border…”

A simple wooden barricade surrounded by barbed wire crosses a street. Beyond it are a Nazi flag, two German soldiers, and a sign in German. Black and white.
German control post on the Demarcation Line, 1941
(German Federal Archives)

We made a small rest-stop between the two lines, the French and the German, because Mr. P. wanted to cross the French line only at noon, when he knew that the French sentries would be at lunch. From a distance, he showed us the French border station house, and our march to a guesthouse, which was already in the free French zone, was relatively trouble free. Here we ate a rather bad bowl of soup, which was nevertheless very welcome after a fast of 16 hours and a four hour-long march. 

We already felt we were saved, and—according to the arrangements by our pilot, who left us at this point—were to await the arrival of an automobile to take us to B., the object of our voyage…


The Neumanns were not safe yet; still they needed to cross the southern border of France, and secure passage on a ship across the Atlantic. In the next installment, they begin this leg of the journey, only to immediately run into trouble with the local police...

(German Federal Archive image shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.)

Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-017-1065-44A / Becker / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Flight from France: Escaping Paris (1/4)

Following the Nazi invasion of his city--Vienna, Austria--Dr. Richard Neumann, textile entrepreneur and art collector of Jewish descent, left his home and, with his wife, Alice, moved to Paris in 1938. They brought with them 38 paintings from their extensive art collection, fully expecting to return to Vienna once hostilities had ended.

Five years later, they were forced to flee Paris, as well, this time leaving behind nearly all of their possessions and money. Here is the story of their escape (part one of four), written by Dr. Neumann after his arrival in Cuba, detailing the harrowing journey, and the many dangers of occupied France. It is shared with the permission of his family.

Dr. Neumann and his art collection are the subject of WAM's ongoing exhibition, "What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann (and the Search to Get it Back)" on view through January 2022.


Each day in Paris brought more alarming news. Arrests, deportations, confiscations of property gave no end of worry for the immigrants. Each day one or another of our many acquaintances disappeared without explanation. For a long time I refused to allow myself to think of leaving Paris, but now I had given in and begun to explore the possibilities. Very quickly, I discovered that obtaining official permission for a legal departure was impossible...


Richard Neumann, dressed in a formal suit. Monochrome.
Richard Neumann, photographed in Vienna
before WWII

[The Neumanns eventually made arrangements with a young man, Mr. P., from the south of France, who promised to take them safely by automobile to the unoccupied territory in Vichy, France] 

He told us that we could send our large trunk to the address of his father in the unoccupied zone, but on no account to include any kind of valuables with it. As personal baggage he allowed us only small hand luggage.

We left on Friday evening from the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris. The compartment was full, but we had numbered seats and the trip went quite normally. We had as much cash as possible with us, —which we obtained, unfortunately, partly through the below-market sale of some our valuable art objects—since we saw little opportunity to obtain any kind of funds in the foreseeable future. This amounted to 40,000 French francs and 200 US dollars.

An apartment block in the typical Hausmann style, five storeys with tan stone facade and black wrought iron railings.
Rue Marguerite, where Richard and Alice Neumann
lived, modern day

At quarter to four in the morning we arrived in A. We descended from the train, went to take a seat in the overfull waiting room and looked around to find Mr. P. (our young guide), who was nowhere to be seen. We became quite concerned, and I began to regret the entire undertaking. Nevertheless, after about 20 minutes Mr. P. arrived, accompanied by an elderly peasant woman. He called on us to follow him quickly, and led us over five sets of train tracks into the darkness of the railroad station, and then into a dark freight car into which he then dragged  […] a basket of chickens, a box containing rabbits, another basket with geese, vegetables, and other farm products.

To our question as to where, in fact, the automobile was, he gave the answer that it had been promised for “later.” The freight car was shifted, and a half hour later it began to move again, only to stop in about 20 minutes at a small station, where we descended. Now we had to wait in the darkness. The automobile was nowhere to be seen. Mr. P. left on his bicycle, and after a while he returned in the company of an old peasant driving a high, two-wheeled cart, pulled by a heavy horse. It was raining buckets, and was totally dark. The geese, ducks, chicken etc. were loaded on the wagon. My wife put on a headscarf; I put on a blue beret; the peasant woman went ahead on the bicycle and we must have given the impression of a farm family. The cart began to move, with Mr. P. at the rear of the procession. In terrible weather and deep in the night we now went, on awful cart paths into a large forest and were badly shaken up on the spring-less cart.

A dense formation of Nazi soldiers march past an organized crowd standing in rows. Everyone is uniformed and the street is lined with swastika flags. Black and white.
Nazi troops marching through Paris after the fall of the city
(AP Images)

After about an hour, during which it gradually became light, we saw in the distance a French gendarme. We stopped, and our friend P. rode over to him and became involved in a long conversation. It appeared that the Frenchman was sympathetic, but warned us not to go further on the road, since this would undoubtedly cause us to fall into the hands of the Germans. He himself closed his eyes, and we left the road and drove, in the slowest speed, directly through the forest and up an incline, stopping frequently to await the signal from the peasant woman who had gone ahead, to see if the coast was clear.

Finally we came, after a two and half-hour trip, to a high corner of the forest where there was a farmyard, into which we drove and descended. We were led into a large farm kitchen, where a fire burned and where a number of children were lying in beds, or stood around, and which was filled quite to capacity by us and our party.

We tried, totally soaked as we were, to dry out a little and then learned, as we again asked about the promised automobile, that it would not become available due to the shortage of gasoline. So it now seems that we would have to make the voyage on foot, quite contrary to plan. The conversations around us dealt mainly with successful or failed border crossings, and especially the latter were described in fulsome detail, with shootings, chases by police dogs, etc. recounted at length to lift everyone’s spirits.


Still to come: the Neumanns must next make their way to the border between Nazi-occupied France and the unoccupied territory of Vichy France.

Friday, May 7, 2021

A Beautiful Friendship

We have asked our Docents to share some of their favorite stories from their time at WAM, in honor of the Docent program's 50th anniversary! Today, Shelley Rodman tells the story of a friendship that began with a conversation in the WAM Galleries.

Sometimes, our most important contributions and memorable experiences as docents isn't about the art.


Four women and a toddler smiling at a cafe table; the toddler (far left, held by her mother) and young woman (right, standing between her mother and godmother) both have Down Syndrome.
From left to right: Baby Abby, Caroline, Shelley, Tessa, and Tina

I was managing the Arms and Armor Art Cart. Caroline (to my left in this photo) came into the room and she had her baby in a front carrier. I couldn't see the baby's face, she was nuzzled into her mom. Caroline said she loved bringing her baby into the museum. She said that it is an inviting and quiet place where she can walk around, enjoy the art and her baby can rest or also enjoy being carried through the galleries.

Baby Abby woke up while we were talking and I recognized that she has Down syndrome. Before I could say anything, Caroline said, "This is my daughter Abby. She has Down syndrome."

I responded that my goddaughter, Tessa, (to my right in this photo), has Down syndrome and she is a well-rounded, independently-living and working young adult.

Caroline's eyes watered and she said, "You're the first person who has shared any good news for Abby's future." She so appreciated hearing more about my relationship with Tessa and about Tessa's education, travels, can-do attitude and great sense of humor. I said I would touch base with Tessa's mom, my dear friend Tina, and maybe we could arrange a meeting.

And here we all are, months later at the WAM cafe, celebrating Tina's birthday and the friendship that developed between Tina and Caroline, Tessa and Abby.

-- Shelley Rodman, WAM Docent
May 7, 2021

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