Sunday, August 5, 2012

Europa, Nazis, and Looting - The Book



I wrote the post below on 20 March 2012, but somehow it never got published. Must be Gremlins. In the meantime, I am happy to report I have been hard at work on my book, client research, writing articles, and actually did some research on my Swedish Family. The end of my subscription to ArkivDigital was pretty strong motivation.

Not much news on the Monuments Men movie front. There is a brief mention of it at the Monuments Men Foundation blog (6 June 2012). And I mean brief, about five words; but there is a picture of Robert Edsel with Grant Heslov and George Clooney. I also found something of an introduction to the Monuments Men by Edsel on YouTube (see above). It's not riveting video, but if you don't feel like reading all the books to find out who Monuments Men were, it's worth a look.

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This past month [March] I have done absolutely NO research on my family history. Zilch, zero, bupkes. What I have done is indulge my fascination with Nazi looting during the Second World War. My first project to this end was to read The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn H. Nicholas.

One aspect of the narrative that was useful for me that it taught me just how awful the Nazis were. I know you are thinking: how could I think otherwise about people who organized the mass murder of six million people. This I do know, in addition to Hitler's exploitation of Germany's economic woes. What I didn't know is that there more ways in which they could be awful. I learned that Hitler had his idea of what was appropriate art and if he didn't like it, it was "degenerate" and not fit for Germany. Works deemed degenerate were purged from national collections and usually sold or destroyed. Not only were the works removed, but the artists who painted them were "encouraged" not to paint anymore. The line between what people can see and create and what they can say, think or do, I would imagine is very fine. I guess what I didn't realize is that Nazi control of the German population extended as far as what paintings could be viewed at a Museum. I also didn't realize that in addition to being war-mongers they were also thieves. From the Jews in France they stole everything from art work to furniture to teddy bears.

This book is not for the feint-hearted as it is almost impossible to keep track of all the German officers who collected art, the Jewish art dealers who were swindled out of their businesses by non-Jews, the families whose collections were confiscated for "safe-keeping", not to mention the artists and their works. The stories of theft, confiscation and destruction are heart-breaking. I almost couldn't read anymore when I read that the precious items from the Museums and Archives of Naples, Italy were moved to Monte Cassino. A few pages later I learned that the Germans moved the collections before the monastery was bombed to smithereens by the Allies.

On the other hand, if the intricacies of the art world or restitution are your thing, then this is the book for you. Nicholas' exhaustive account details Nazi planning (they made lists of art works they wanted to steal years before the war started), their schemes for acquiring these works, and they ways in which the Allies got much of it back and returned what they could.

2 comments:

Grant Davis said...

Happy Blogiversary.

Jim (Hidden Genealogy Nuggets Blog) said...

I see according to Geneabloggers, today is your 2nd year anniversary since you've been blogging. Happy Blogiversary.

Regards, Jim
Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

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