Richard Barancik, the last surviving member of the Allied unit known as the Monuments Men and Women, which during and after World War II preserved a large amount of European art and cultural treasures that had been looted and hidden by Nazi Germany, died July 14 in Chicago. He was 98 years old.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his daughter Jill Barancik.
Mr. Barancik (pronounced ba-RAN-sick) was one of four members of what was officially called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015 in Washington for their “heroic role in the preservation, protection, restitution of culturally significant monuments, works of art and artifacts”.
On the day of the ceremony, Mr. Barancik told the Los Angeles Times: “Americans cared about the cultural traditions of Europe. We did everything we could to salvage what the Nazis had done. It’s the best we could do.
A private first class in the army, Mr Barancik served in England and France – where he was not on the front lines, his daughter said, and enjoyed the march, the food and the structure of military life – until Germany surrendered. After being deployed to Salzburg, Austria, he volunteered for the Monuments Men serving for three months as a driver and caretaker.
The Men and Women Monuments were made up of around 350 people – including museum directors, curators, scholars, historians and artists – whose missions included keeping Allied bombers away from cultural targets in Europe; supervising repairs when damage has occurred; and tracking down millions of items looted by the Nazis and returning them to the institutions and countries they came from.
Mr. Barancik, who later became an architect, was interested in art. He had drawn cartoons for his high school newspaper and found it fascinating to see churches and other buildings in Europe. But as a monument man, he probably didn’t see many of the paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts he kept and transported to an Allied collection point; they were in crates.
“Somebody could have said, ‘There’s a Vermeer in this,’ and he knew art was important or valuable,” said Robert Edsellfounder and president of the Monuments Men and Women Foundation, who interviewed Mr. Barancik and 20 other unit survivors for his book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” (2009, with Bret Witter). The book has been adapted into the 2014 film “Men of Monuments”, in which George Clooney directed and starred.
Mr. Edsel said that Mr. Barancik had been cautious during their two interviews, surprised at the interest in a short-term Monuments Man who, unlike his more experienced colleagues, had no artistic specialty.
“He seemed more curious that I could put what he had done into perspective, like he didn’t realize where he was in the big picture,” Mr Edsel said by phone.
Ms Barancik said her father “was very embarrassed by the attention” he received for receiving the Congressional Gold Medal.
“He didn’t feel like a hero,” she said over the phone. “He said, ‘I was a kid, I was there for three months. I’m wrong to take credit for myself. But I was like, ‘You were a witness, you represent the people who are no longer with us.’ »
Mr. Edsel recalled that after the ceremony, Mr. Barancik told him, “I deeply appreciate what you and the foundation have done, and it is an honor beyond my ability to express. »
Richard Morton Barancik was born on October 19, 1924 in Chicago. Her father, Henry, was a family physician and served as chief of staff at South Shore Hospital; his mother, Carrie (Grawoig) Barancik, was a housewife and played the piano for ballet lessons.
After his stint as a Monuments Man, Mr. Barancik stayed in Europe to study architecture at the University of Cambridge, England and the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Returning to the United States, he entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and obtained a bachelor’s degree in architecture in the late 1940s.
In 1950, he opened an architecture firm, Barancik, Conte & Associates, with one of his design professors at the University of Illinois. The company has designed private homes, office towers, suburban office complexes, bowling alleys, schools and luxury apartment buildings.
“I really practice architecture seven days a week, all my waking hours,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1986. “It’s a profession that takes everything.” He retired in 1993.
In addition to his daughter Jill, Mr. Barancik is survived by two other daughters, Cathy Graham and Ellie Barancik; two sons, Robert and Michael; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Her marriage to Rema Stone ended in divorce and her marriages to Claire Holland and Suzanne Hammerman ended in their deaths.
One of the benefits of the attention given to Mr. Barancik as a man of monuments was the correspondence he received.
“He was getting fan mail and, once a week, an autograph request,” Ms Barancik said. “He was getting sensitive letters from people, including a lot of school children, which kept the conversation going.”