130 of 133 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2001
This book is more than just a hum-drum listing of works that were taken, lost or destroyed in the years leading up to and including World War II. It is an intriguing and thought-provoking look at the attempted cultural occultation of not just its own nation and ideals, but of the Nazi aggression on the world. The Nazi way of condemning certain "degenerate" works, either Jewish or Impressionist for example, painfully exhibit the ultimate crushing of free thought and expression which were so vital to the Nazi regime's recipe for authoritarianism.
But the underlying Nazi menace is only a part of the suspenseful undertone in this book. The various heart-wrenching stories of the brave souls who tried to protect and salvage the many works of art (on both sides surprisingly) are what give this account a real kick. To me the accounts on the Soviet front were especially remarkable.
My only complaint is that since I am not, as I suspect the majority of the readers are not, art historians, the significance of many of these works directly mentioned is lost. I would like to have seen more pictures of the art work in question. (I have uncovered a documentary in the works based on this book which might allieviate some of this problem, but until then...)
For those interested in the history of World War II and who might have exhausted the typical military accounts, I highly recommend this alternate angle into Nazi repression and its effect on those who lived through it. Heck, I recommend this for anyone who enjoys history.
112 of 117 people found the following review helpful
World War II was unique in so far as war can have different degrees of intensity, scope, or perhaps evil. The Germany of the Nazis was one with an insatiable appetite, whether for killing, inventing crimes so heinous new words were needed, or the absolute fervor with which they wanted everything. They literally wanted everything, whether changed to suit them, or in the case this book discusses, they wanted art, all of it. Their actions went well beyond the spoils of War that a victor generally has taken as his own, either from greed or an imagined sense of recompense for the battles fought. They wanted to change the demographics of the planet, had they succeeded, they would have managed the greatest art theft in History.
It may sound like a bizarre comparison, but the "Grinch" of Dr. Seuss fame came to mind while reading. The fictional character like his Nazi counterparts attempted to wipe out a culture by taking everything. The list of names of Artists includes every Master that ever painted, sculpted, drew, or any artisan who created a work of beauty. Nothing was overlooked; imagine having to return over 5,000 bells stolen from all over Europe. Yes, bells, as I said they took everything.
The book has some great photographs. There is a photo of one of the Goering residences and the Art he had stolen. It may sound bizarre but it looks like a bad yard sale. Any taste he had was in his mouth. It's quite a feat to amass priceless objects, and then display them in such a way and in such numbers, that the result is a garage sale. The picture also illustrates what the whole theft was about, the desire to have stuff, all the stuff you could steal. Happily they lost, or the world's great art would have become the personal property of the artistically challenged moral degenerates of the Third Reich.
Much more intriguing was Ms. Nicholas's treatment of how so much art was preserved, hidden, and protected. A photograph of DaVinci's "Last Supper", or better said the protective covering, is simply amazing. So too are the photos of American Soldiers casually posing with a Goya, or standing with The Ghent Altarpiece. Aerial photographs of destroyed cities where virtually all that was saved was the Art.
There are also troubling events after the War that remain to the present. So much art was stolen yet again by the Victors, some has reappeared, and much has not. Even the custody that was taken of many works after the War by this Country, and displayed at our National Galleries is an event I would hope we would never again repeat. The value of these objects, the tons of precious metals, and other items are beyond calculation. Hopefully with the changes in Europe and the Former Soviet Union more art will find it's way back to where it originally resided.
In the end all the effort the Nazis expended on their desire to feed there egos probably saved many, many pieces of art. I am in no way suggesting what they did was correct. If they thought they were saving art for future generations of people and not their superior race of automatons, they would have destroyed it. And the Corporal's fondness for Paris didn't hurt either.
A very well written and interesting book for the art lover, or for fans of well crafted History.
59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2006
This book is a must for anyone involved in art - any aspect of it!
I was overawed by the preparation which was undertaken by both the Allies and the Axis forces pror to , during, and after WWII! This was one of two books I used for a report on Stolen Art. The only reason I rated this one as four stars is that it was sometimes difficult to plough through Chapter IX (The Red Hot Rake)- the rest of the book was absolutley fascinating. I would include another book -"The Lost Museum" by Hector Feliciano. "The Lost Museum" was easier to read and equally fascinating and portrayed the removal of the art from The Louvre in such a manner that it left me breathless! Read Both!
48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2014
The release of the movie “The Monuments Men” is stimulating interest in the topic of art looted during World War II and the efforts made since to restore that art to its rightful owners. Anyone who becomes interested in this subject should read “The Rape of Europa” by Lynn Nicholas. This work was described by Dr. Mason Hammond, one of the original monuments men, as “the definitive work on the subject.” It provided the basis from which this movie was made, and it is based on years of research in the archives of both the US and Europe. It is very readable and tells an absorbing story. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award for general non-fiction in 1994
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2001
For anyone who's not an art scholar like me, this book can be a difficult challenge. But if you persist, you will be impressed by Nicholas's investigative powers, stunned by the audacity of Nazis, and perversely fascinated by the protective lengths of museums, artists, and ordinary civilians took to save their treasures from falling into enemy hands.
*** The appropriation of great works of art may not be a crime equal to the holocaust of human lives, but we can begin to grasp the progression of tyranny in stolen property and the systematic imposition on everyday lives. It is a story that doesn't have complete resolution. Even today, works of art remain missing or await return to their rightful owners. Many treasures were destroyed, however, and will never return. It is a haunting echo of other, more heinous war crimes.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2007
Nicholas traces the plunder of cultural treasures by Nazi Germany followed by the Allies' efforts to locate and return the booty. The Germans also engaged in the wanton destruction of others' cultural treasures, beginning with the very start of WWII. For instance, the German forces deliberately bombed and shelled the historical section of Warsaw (the Old Town). (p. 61)
The reader soon learns that the pillage of conquered nations was done not just by Nazi hacks, but also by German intellectuals, as in German-occupied Poland: "Even the most distinguished German scholars were not immune to the opportunities presented by a cultural scene so open to exploitation...once the country lay at their feet many of these academics felt not the slightest qualms at transferring the collections, libraries, and even research notes of their erstwhile colleagues to their own use." (p. 74).
Spectacular German thefts include that of the giant Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss) altar of Krakow (Cracow), and the Bursztyn Komnaty (Amber Room) of the city of Pushkin. The latter is yet to resurface.
Nicholas touches on those German genocidal plans against the Slavs that were to be implemented after Germany's expected victory over Russia: "The basic policies would be the same as those applied to Poland. After conquest, areas would be cleansed, exploited, and Germanized...In these [German-appointed districts] the cleansing would again be cultural, racial, and ideological. Not only Jews and `Bolshevists' would be eliminated by immediate execution; much of the general Slavic population would be allowed to expire naturally when their food supplies were diverted to the worthier citizens of the Reich." (p. 185)
There are some distortions and omissions in this book. Nicholas repeats the myth of the Poles "arriving at" an already-abandoned Monte Cassino (p. 247) when in actuality the Poles had to overcome fierce German resistance, and to take grievous casualties, in order to take Monte Cassino. She elaborates on the Germans' burning of the libraries and archives of Naples (pp. 232-233), and the agony of the Soviet-betrayed Warsaw Uprising (p. 77), but not the magnitudes-greater destruction of Warsaw's cultural treasures. AFTER the fall of the Warsaw Uprising, the vindictive Germans burnt and blew up the still-standing architectural treasures of Warsaw. They also burned all the libraries and archives of Warsaw, causing the loss of 13 million volumes, including about 500,000 irreplaceable ones.
All in all, however, Nicholas has given the reader a good overview of this sad subject.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2009
This a both a work of considerable scholarship and also a work written with considerable understanding of human nature. Essentially it is written in two parts. The first covers the Nazi expropriation or destruction of works of art all over Europe from 1939 through 1942. The second part covers the Allied attempts to recover and safeguard the stolen/confiscated/extorted works of art. The strength of this work is that the author makes clear that this simple narrative is complicated by the fact that not all motives were entirely pure or entirely corrupt depending on the nature of the individuals involved. There were some German army officials who actually tried to safeguard and protect art though their efforts were usually overcome by rapacious National Socialist ideologists and greedy Party officials. "Collaborationist" French officials did all in their bureaucratic power to delay and obstruct the systematic looting. On the other side, not all Allied military personnel behaved correctly with personal instances of indifference and corruption against which the "Monument Men" struggled untiringly. The author is particularly clear about the role of European art dealers who, if they were in business from 1939 to 1945, did some business with the Nazis who ruled Europe. Their ethical challanges are described as is the way they met those challanges with various levels of compromise. The only flaw in the book is that there are not many illustrations of the works involved in theis huge transfer of ownership and location. Of course, such illustrations would practically describe a history of Western art, so instead we have many contemporary photos of the activities being described in the text, which are quite interesting.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2009
Painstaking research behind the fascinating documentary, Rape of Europa. Lynn Nichols compelling book of the same title explores broad efforts to safeguard European masterpieces from Nazi greed and plunder. She shifts her focus from capital to countryside, from the one border to the next. While she records art historians' views on looting and valued artifacts retained by conquering nations, she also turns her lens onto the less-publicized cases of Allied looting, the cases of victorious soldiers purloined objets d'art as souvenirs. In the final chapter, Nichols describes the fate of the heirs to American military plunder finding that the stolen items, while valuable, are unsalable, Some are returning stolen items anonymously discovering that there is still a penalty attached to war-time loot; others are forced to surrender objects identified by German investigators tracking historical collections spirited beyond its borders. The German government lost paintings taken back to the Soviet Union in train loads where they are still held as compensation for monstrous ravage and destruction;, the art world as a group monitors the markets for individual pieces going for auction and ponders in general the moral dilemma posed by war loot and restitution.
The compelling moral directive still remains as one of massive concerted Allied effort from the top down to discover, identify and return thousands of pieces of stolen art to their rightful owners--if they still be among the living, a story that continues through this day.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2013
After seeing the fascinating documentary of the same name, I was excited to find that it was based on this book. I have found this book absolutely absorbing. It is densely packed with intriguing information and detail.
Ms Nicholas writes in a manner that makes the subject matter unfold almost like a thriller. Even portions of information that one may deem dry come across in an interesting way. One issue however: I sometimes struggled to keep names in order--there is a large cast of art dealers, Nazis, etc. This may not be a problem for you.
I love art, and have found this telling of a rarely discussed part of WWII (I knew almost nothing about it) very interesting and educational; it really broadens your scope of the art world and even the second World War. If you like art, art history, the history of WWII, or are simply looking for a fascinating (true) yarn, The Rape of Europa is an excellent choice. I highly recommend it.
Also, if you have seen the documentary but have not read the book, I would encourage you to still read it; it covers significantly more than the documentary is able to.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2008
The Rape of Europa is an eye-opening book. Nicholas has done a tremendous amount of research that reveals the almost unimaginable extent of Nazi art looting during World War II. But the book never gets bogged down in details. The chilling story moves along quickly. I recommend this book highly for anyone interested in World War II, or for readers who are curious about the political uses of art.