Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
Reminder of German Viciousness, the Scale of German Art Theft, and the Need for Action
on January 14, 2015
Author Nicholas begins by detailing how Germany systematically stole enormous quantities of art, beginning with that of wealthy Jews in Germany and Austria - sometimes by direct confiscation, in others via requiring they be turned over to authorities as 'payment' for visas out of the country. At the same time, Germany sold off artwork by 'less-desirable' artists, using the proceeds to help fund its war preparations. Then, as war become increasingly likely, museums around Europe (including London) closed so that their collections could be shipped off to safer locations - Canada, Switzerland, castles, salt mines, vaults, country safe havens. Churches also attempted to safeguard their treasured artworks and altars in the same manner; cathedral windows were also removed and spirited away. Some of the wealthy followed suit, though in some cases their efforts were limited to eg. burying their silver in the back yard. In Spain, art lovers also managed to persuade Franco to suspend bombing long enough to remove artwork to safety in other nations.
Their fears were well-founded. Hitler's invasion of Poland was intentionally brutal, intended to not only seize territory but to also wipe out Polish culture. Residential areas and palaces were deliberately bombed, apparently without military reason. Desirable art was either placed under German protection or sent back to Germany. Synagogues were burnt or otherwise destroyed. Items from 'undesirables' were often destroyed, and high-quality items claimed to represent Polish culture were proclaimed to be of German provenance instead. Overall supervision of these efforts was provided by German art experts.
Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to summarize or get 'the big picture' from this book - partly because it take a geographical focus (instead of chronological), but mostly because it simply doesn't provide such information. Thus, one needs another source.
Harvard Magazine ('The Art Army' - Jan-Feb 2010) is a good source. It tells us that Nazi Germany may have stolen over 5 million cultural objects from the countries it conquered. Paul Sachs, director of the Fog Art Museum, was the leader. Fortunately, The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Roberts ('the Roberts Commission), formed with Roosevelt's backing, was able to influence U.S. Army leaders - if the received direction from military officers who were available during or immediately after the fighting.
Eventually 15 men served - 8 Americans and 7 Britons, with only 8 actually in the field. The group was comprised of directors and curators. The volume and quality of art found in various hiding places was staggering.