When the movie “Monuments Men” opens today, there’s one macabre story you won’t see on the silver screen. Not only did the Nazi hide art, but they also hid bodies!

In this case, they hid the remains of German leaders, including Frederick the Great and Frederick William I, in a salt mine. (The photograph shows the coffin of Frederick the Great as it was found, draped with a Nazi flag, May 1, 1945.)

The Germans had hidden the caskets containing the bodies of the Fredericks and former Weimar President Paul von Hindenburg and his wife in a mine in a remote area to conceal them from the approaching Russian troops. But the war ended, and U.S. troops made it to the mine first and found the caskets. They were in a room divided into different compartments hung with brilliants flags.

Capt. Walter K. Hancock, an officer specialist with the Monuments Men, described the scene: “Crawling through the opening into the hidden room, I was at once forcibly struck with the realization that this was no ordinary deposit of works of art. The place had the aspect of a shrine … all suggested the setting for a modern pagan ritual.”

Stout later described the casket in an oral history interview with the Archives of American Art in 1978. In the movie, Clooney’s character is based on Stout. 

You can read more about the strange discovery in today’s Prologue blog post: http://go.usa.gov/B5Zm