on July 12, 2008
As a young man Hilter was an aspiring but mediocre painter. But Hitler's artistic ambitions were thwarted when he was not accepted into the Academy Of Fine Arts in Vienna. Many of those on the admission board were apparently Jewish and some historians blame this rejection as playing an important role in the development of Hitler's rabid anti-Semitism.
This doc begins with a discussion of the Nazi's hatred of modern art, which they considered a "degenerate" Jewish form, and their obsession with collecting classical works of art. From there the film proceeds chronologically through the German invasions of Austria, Poland, France and Russia. In each place the Nazis plundered great works of art. Some were taken into private collections, such as the vast number owned by Hermann Goering, the Nazi's second in command. Others were placed in storage, with Hilter's ultimate goal being to create a massive Fuhrer Museum in his hometown of Linz, Austria.
Fortunately, massive evacuations were undertaken at the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in Leningard, which successfully hid numerous works of classic art from theft by the Nazis. But it wasn't only the Germans who did the plundering. The Soviets also engaged in massive looting of German art during their raids on Berlin. Also some Italian art and architecture was destroyed by American bombing. But, to their credit, the Americans also begin sending in Monuments Men who were entrusted with helping preserve art from further destruction and confiscating the works that had being stolen by the Germans.
The film contains a mix of extraordinary archival footage with narration by Joan Allen and interviews with various art historians and others. At close to 2 hours, it is rather long for a documentary and some may find it slow at times. But with it's primary purpose education rather than entertainment, it is best appreciated by those with a strong interest in European art and Nazi atrocities. It is a very well made documentary, however, and comes highly recommeded to those with at least some interest in the subject matter.
on May 1, 2008
Quite simply, this is the best documentary I have seen in the past thirty years.
As an instructor in 20th Century World History I have viewed hundreds of films relating to the Second World War. This is the primary area I focus upon with my students.
The Rape of Europa is exceptionable film making and is unlike any other documentary both in its outstanding storyline and engaging cinematic presentation.
Well over ninety-percent of the photographic imagery and historical background content was absolutely new to me.
This is a film everyone should view and own in DVD format for their personal or family collection.
I urge every educator to purchase a copy for their classroom, every librarian for their institutional patrons.
My Highest Recommendation *****
on January 5, 2008
Incredible, amazing, unforgettable. Raises numerous unanswerable questions. To what extent did Hitler's actions stem from his rejection by the Viennese art school. Unsung heroes abound--from museum personnel to monuments men. Deservedly, the film seems to run forever in our small town of Santa Fe, NM. Still no end in sight. DON'T MISS!
on February 17, 2013
I am writing this for people interested in the Collector's Edition and wondering what the stuff on the other two DVDs consist of.
The first DVD contains the original documentary, which tells the story of the well-organised and premeditated looting of Europe's artistic masterpieces by the Nazis. It's a great and not previously much-aired story, well told. Sometimes it seems like Hitler's desire to steal the best art from across Europe for his own museum was not the least of his reasons for waging war.
The second DVD contains basically extended versions of the interviews edited into the documentary. Some of the extra material thereby aired is a bit tedious, but mostly it adds, usually covering the less art-related side of the stories but often engrossing nonetheless.
The extra content on the third DVD is much more art-related. It ranges from deeper delvings into the repatriation issue and the moral, legal and financial factors involved. For me this evidence of the more distant relatives of the victims of brutal art theft now taking a less public-spirited and more selfish attitude to these works, which should belong to us all, forms a strong contrast to the selfless devotion of the heroes of the film, who I'm sure would not be pleased to know that their efforts have, in some cases, ended in works now languishing in vaults rather than shining out from the walls of museums. These heroes now include those working to protect all our patrimony in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. This last topic is impressively covered on the third disc too. There's also some fascinating background to the Czartoryski Museum, the home of Leonardo's `Lady with an Ermine'.
How much is a life worth? How much is a great cultural work of art worth? It's impossible to assign a value to either, except to say they both are invaluable. The Rape of Europa is a fine, fascinating documentary about the German plunder of significant art during WWII, organized as meticulously as the Germans organized the murder of millions of human beings. This film illustrates and explains the wholesale looting on a vast scale of easily a fifth of Europe's significant cultural treasures. And where these treasures were considered a part of Jewish or Slavic culture, they were destroyed.
While the Nazi leaders were psychopathic, racist thugs, it's important to remember that their crimes were made possible by all those German men and women, mostly not Nazis, who worked each day at making stealing and killing possible, then returned to their homes to play with their children, eat their braised rabbit, make love to their spouses and then start the next day again. One can't plead ignorance when one is filling a syringe with poison in a mental institution, or attaching explosives to a beautiful Renaissance bridge, or typing an order for more pencils while smelling the near-by crematoriums at work. This is the banality of evil that makes widespread evil possible.
Hitler was fascinated by art. He considered himself an artist of the first rank. As German dictator, he was determined to bring to Germany all the great art of Europe. He had plans for a huge art museum at Linz, his childhood home. He determined what was good art and was not art (modern art was Jewish art, in his view, and should be destroyed). With German thoroughness, his minions drew up of lists of cultural treasures, raided public and private museums in occupied countries, destroyed what they disapproved up, and organized incredible amounts of transport to bring this art into Germany. All the while, taking their cue from Hitler and Goering, Nazi functionaries and German Army officer suddenly became passionate art collectors. All they had to do was take what they wanted. German bureaucrats knew what they were after even as German troops invaded a country. For Slavic countries like Poland, it was a matter more of destroying a culture than taking the art. When German soldiers were at the front in need of clothes, ammunition and supplies, when gasoline was always in short supply, thousands of boxcars were filled with looted art and sent by special trains back to Germany, continuing even as the war was almost over.
When Allied bombing began in earnest and when the invasion of Italy began, it became clear that, while the Allies did not know the extent of German looting, widespread destruction of Europe's cultural heritage by the Allies should be avoided where possible. Thanks to Dwight Eisenhower, a small group of young American artists, curators and art historians were recruited to join the Army and identify and try to preserve what they could as the fighting moved forward. These men, called the monuments men, are the heroes of this story. There were fewer than four hundred of them doing a risky job with few resources and not much clout. They performed incredible feats of preservation, working to save great art and return it from where it was looted. If the first half of The Rape of Europa is shocking, even after so many years have passed, the second half is almost redeeming. For these men, several of whom are interviewed, their work was clearly intensely satisfying. They were saving an essential part of what makes us civilized.
The Rape of Europa covers a great deal of ground, perhaps too much, but it all is fascinating. Probably separate documentaries could be made about the immense effort it has been taking to make museums today return works of art they possess to the descendants of those who once owned the art...or to the young German who now has undertaken to return looted Torah crowns to the Jewish descendants...or the huge work during the war of museum curators and staff to pack and hide their museums' art from the Germans...or to the middle-aged, unremarkable French woman who was able to secretly keep lists of individual works of art and their destinations that the Germans were sending out of Paris...or the behavior of the German armies in Italy who destroyed without rational reason great historical buildings and bridges as they retreated north...or all that art the Soviets looted from Germany which now sits in the thousands in the basements of Russian museums.
What separates humanity from other animals is that we create art...and that we are so easily led to destroy the art we create, as well as to kill vast numbers of our brothers and sisters.
This is an excellent documentary, written and directed by Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham. It's based on the book by Lynn Nicholas. Wartime and post-war film footage is used extensively, as well as current interviews. Joan Allen is the narrator.
on March 24, 2014
I read that some people who had seen this documentary before the "Monuments Men" movie came out ended up preferring it to Clooney's fictionalized film -- and I'd have to agree. I had also read the book ("The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History" by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter) and so I was immersed in the true story, and I found that the movie inadvertently sapped the story of its inherent urgency and excitement by streamlining and fabricating so much. I think I know why they made the changes they made, and I know how hard those decisions are to make. I am often on the other side of this argument, insisting that the changes made to a true story actually served the story well in the transition to film, but this time -- not so much.
If you're intrigued by the crazy task of trying to protect art in the middle of a war, check this out. And if you're open to a very different idea about Hitler's motivation for the actions that brought us into the second world war, you might be tickled by the opening 20 minutes...
on August 27, 2008
This is one film that everyone should see whether they're interested in art or not. It deals with issues that are much deeper than simply the disappearance of significant works of art. It provides interesting insight into the midset and mentality of the Third Reich, shedding light on an aspect of their actions not commonly addressed. That aspect is the significant role of art collecting in the hierarchy and advancement within the Nazi party. One realizes that the mass pillaging of museums and galleries was more than an act of greed, but actually played into a much larger plan and vision that Hitler desperately held on to.
Historically it is fascinating and enlightening, but emotionally it is one of the most moving and touching films I have seen. The combination of footage, personal stories, and historical fact touches and stirs the deepest feelings of humanity and really gets to the core of what it is to be human. While I always understod the devastation Europe suffered at the hands of Hitler, for the first time I FELT the devastation. By far the most moving film I have ever seen.
Everyone must see this film. It is absolutely necessary for really understanding and grasping the consequences of what happened during WWII.
on April 1, 2013
One of those documentaries that grows in impact as it goes along. For the first hour or so I found this study of the Nazi's plundering
and stealing Europe's great works of art, along with the allies attempts to spare art during the war, intellectually interesting, but a bit
dry and even repetitive.
But as the film moves on to the aftermath of the war, and we get more of the human side of the story. Great art treasures are returned
to the lands whose cultures they represent and we see the joy that it brings. We hear both sides of the Russian debate about keeping
the art they took from Germany as a sort of reparation for the horrible human cost of the war. We see restorations still going on 60 years
later with care and passion. We get to know a Christian German who has made it his mission to return beautiful and intricate Torah scroll
caps to their rightful Jewish owners. And in the process the film blossoms into a very human examination of just how important art is to
human beings and to our sense of selves.
Ultimately, what starts feeling like a somewhat academic exercise ends up as a very moving and personal documentary.