Priceless German Art Found in Texas
Military photo of First Lieutenant Joe Meador.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, on June 18, 1990, a civil action was filed in United States District Court in Dallas on behalf of a German church seeking the return of a number of medieval objets d’art that had disappeared at the end of World War II.
During the war, the Lutheran Church of St. Servatius in Quedlinburg, Germany, placed the objects in a mineshaft for safekeeping, but reported their loss in June 1945. After one of the objects appeared on the market in Europe in 1987, a German investigator traced some of the remaining pieces to Whitewright, Texas, where a former U.S. Army lieutenant named Joe Meador had settled.
In 1945 Meador had served in the occupation of Quedlinburg. Fellow soldiers reported seeing him carrying mysterious bundles out of the mine.
Meador was discharged from the army in 1946. After he died in 1980, his family found the treasures and later sold some of it for $3 million to the German foundation.
What followed was a media frenzy, as the New York Times, CBS News and others rushed into the small towns in north Texas to learn more about how the precious art work had ended up there.
In 1998, the Internal Revenue Service announced it was seeking more than $50 million in federal taxes, penalties, and interest from the estate. The Meadors settled the case two years later by agreeing to pay $135,000.
In 2016, filmmaker and Denison, Texas, native Cassie Hay released a documentary on the story titled The Liberators.
The film examines Joe Meador and raises intriguing questions as to his motivations.
One reason Hay says Meador might have balked at returning the artwork was that Quedlinburg is in eastern Germany and was occupied by Soviet troops after Meador’s unit pulled out. That part of Germany was still under communist rule in 1980 and German reunification would take another decade. But that doesn’t answer the question of why he took the art in the first place.
To the people of Quedlinburg, Germany, the gold-enhanced figures and other items are a priceless part of the heritage they had tried to protect from the Nazis and Allied bombardments during the war.
Hay speculates that Meador may have thought the works of art would end up being ruined in the war-torn region where he encountered them and that they would be safer with him.