Nazi plunder

Art looted during World War II covers the cultural prey on and after the end of World War II by Allied forces and occupying powers. The extensive art theft of Nazi Germany in all of the German occupied areas is also under international law as war booty, defined as “war-caused cultural objects”, and is classified as stolen art and Nazi-looted art called.

Nazi-looted art

From 1939-1944 looted Nazi organizations castles, libraries, museums and private collections in the occupied territories of the German Wehrmacht. In particular, the Operations Staff Reich Leader Rosenberg, under Alfred Rosenberg, the Sonderkommando Künsberg and the research and teaching community Ahnenerbe, which was under Heinrich Himmler, competed in the detection and removal of works of art and archives.

The looted art objects should partly be founded in a “Führer Museum” in Linz issued the stolen libraries of philosophical research and teaching are supplied. Were used to obtain foreign currency portions of the looted art on the international art market, particularly about Switzerland offered. And a considerable number of valuable works of art found its way into the private collection of Hermann Goering.

In 1943 and 1948, significant portions of the stolen Nazi looted art organizations from all over Europe were hiding in the salt mine at Altausee Altausee in Liezen in Styria. They were from 1945 by the Allied s brought in Munich, which was located in the administrative building of the Fuhrer and the Nazi Party in trucks to the central collection point (Central Collecting Point).

Large parts of the private collection of Hermann Goering remained until shortly before the war ended in the state rooms of his residence Carin Hall in the north of the village Beautiful large pool on the western edge of the Schorfheide about 65 km north of Berlin. In January 1945, Goering bring art collection in special trains to Berchtesgaden and put there in cleats. The art treasures were then unloaded and put into bomb shelters, some of the paintings and tapestries were stolen in the last days of the war from the trains by looters.

Looted Art in France

After the surrender of France’s Adolf Hitler issued on 30 June 1940 the command of the French state and art of individuals, in particular Jews, sure. Three institutions were in this regard active: the “art protection force” of the Wehrmacht, the art historian Franz Wolff-Metternich (1893-1978) directed the German Embassy in Paris, including the ambassador Otto Abetz, who was commissioned by Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, and insert rod Empire Rosenberg (ERR). So it was at the far-reaching and extensive seizures in France rivalries between the various managers. Metternich, who took seriously the task of the art protection had, multiple point out that the confiscation against the Hague Convention violated. He was on leave in 1942 by Hitler and released in October 1943. The Operations Staff Reich Leader Rosenberg dismissed the validity of the Hague Regulations of 1907, according to which private property is protected, on the ground that it did not apply to Jews and their property.

Before the war there was a large part of the French possessions in art collections and art shops of Jewish families such as the Rothschild’s and the brothers Bernheim-Jeune, Levy de Benzion (1873-1943), Alphonse Can (1870-1948), David David-Weill Marguerite Stern, Alphonse castle, Georges Wildenstein and Paul Rosenberg. Many of them had fled before the German invasion, but had to leave behind their collections. From July to September 1940 confiscated the Ambassador Abetz especially the art treasures of the French state and the museums, but also of Jewish citizens. As of November 1940, the galleries, apartments, warehouses and depots art “wealthy French Jews” were systematically searched by the operations staff Rosenberg.

Inventoried and therefore retrospectively detected and researched is the seizure of 21,902 art objects from 203 collections. The value of the collected works of art up to March 1941 was estimated by the Berlin line of the insert rod Empire Rosenberg on more than a billion Reichsmarks. Between April 1941 and July 1944 4,174 boxes cultural goods were sent in 29 shipments to Germany through the use of bar Rosenberg. Furthermore, in an “action M” looted from formerly Jewish-owned furniture and household: the more than one million cubic meters of cargo were transported in 29,436 railroad cars from France to Germany from 71,619 homes.

After a command leaders of 18 November 1940 were the confiscated works of art Hitler for the Special Mission Linz available. They were deposited in the castles of Neuschwanstein, Chiemsee, Buxheim (Bavaria), Kogl in Attergau and Seisenegg (Austria) and Mikulov (Czechoslovakia).

Looted Art in Eastern Europe

While the Nazis in Western Europe basically still a distinction between “useful” and “degenerate” (ie, modern art) and to give the impression sought the confiscated artworks were bought, they were attacked and driven all inhibitions in the occupied eastern territories systematic looting.

Works of art that were created by Germans or that somehow appeared sellable, were spared. The art works of Russian or Polish artists have been systematically destroyed, however, because they were the Nazis as “worthless,” they came to the Nazi ideology but according of “subhuman s”.

As museums and galleries were in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union systematically looted, plundered private homes, Orthodox churches, synagogues n and n mosque destroyed in southern Russia.

The most notorious case of Nazi art theft is probably the Amber Room, which in October 1941 from the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin) was transported to Saint Petersburg. A few months later, the Neptune fountain from the park of the Tsar’s residence was moved to Nuremberg.

Repatriation after the war

From 1945 to the looted art was made, photographed, cataloged, checked on their origins and returned to the rightful owners of the Allies from the salvage places at different central collection points (Central Collecting Point) in Munich, Wiesbaden and Marburg. 1949, the Collecting Point in one of his activities and transferred its duties to the German Restitution Committee. In 1952 this was replaced by the German trusteeship for inheritance, which was affiliated to the Foreign Office.

On 1 January 1963 took over the Regional Finance Office Munich all documents and the remaining artifacts. Following, Section 1 GG is the owner of the Federal Republic of remaining 3500 inventory numbers, but capture a much larger number of objects. Documents and files which can provide information on the origin of art, located in the Federal Archives in Koblenz.

In German archives, cultural institutions and museums are still unlawfully appropriated during the Nazi era cultural property, especially from previously owned by Jews. According to estimates of the looted art researcher Günter Wermusch three to five million works of art were stolen in the conquered territories of the National Socialists. Until the mid-1960s about 80 percent of the works were returned. Then it came to only sporadic returns. Assuming the lower numbers, this means that 500,000 works of art have not been returned to the owners or their heirs (yet). These figures relate to the confiscation of the occupied territories. In addition, the number of subsumed now under German domestic looted art “linearization” of Jewish property and the confiscation of public collections in the course of “degenerate art”.

The Federal Republic of Germany in 1998 in the Washington Declaration (see below) agreed to refund of works of art, even if no international or civil obligation exists. The practical implementation of this commitment is sometimes criticized heavily in the published opinion. The relationship between the descendants of foreign claims and the German collection requirements by the federal government has come under criticism as disproportionate.

Restitution through Austria

After the Second World War, many works of art were in possession of Austrian collections and museums. Recoveries by victims or their heirs and successors, were for decades rejected or ignored by the art holders, mostly state museums or collections, actions were taken by the defense of the Republic of Austria in the length and mostly abandoned or rejected inconclusive. Only in 1998 was a separate law, which will allow the return of confiscated art to their rightful owners or heirs, created: the restitution law.

But since the return from not running mostly smoothly. A particularly stubborn case, for example those of Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally. The painting located in the possession of the Austrian art collector Rudolf Leopold was seized at an exhibition in New York in 1998, the process also took in March 2008 and cost far more to 2.9 million euros showed in 2008 at an exhibition of images Albin Egger Lienz ‘Leopold Museum in Vienna again vulnerabilities in restitution law. 14 paintings here are suspected to be Nazi-looted art. For some, the origin is proved by Nazi expropriation of Jewish property (approximately 1939 the couple George and Erna Duschinsky removed “Inside the Forest” by the Gestapo), but because the painting now in the possession of a private foundation, does not attack the law. The case led to large media echo after the collector Rudolf Leopold had any guilt of himself and the Jewish community spoke of a “mockery of Nazi victims” and called for the closure of the Leopold Museum.

Art looted by the Allies

Looted art in the U.S.

Sol Chaneles, a 1990 late art theft researcher and professor of criminal law at Rutgers University, New Jersey, reported on a large with German cultural cluttered transport aircraft, which was flown from Munich to the United States in the summer of 1945 – what has become of it, is still unclear. Chaneles also reported the disappearance of the collection castle, a collection of Dutch masters of the 17th Century, their stocks supposedly now for a true aberration between Vichy France and the Nazis should be in the custody of the National Gallery in Washington. In other points Chaneles verdict on the failure of U.S. efforts is so-called Nazi looted art be returned to their rightful owners as excessive. In other cases he just was he who revealed the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of works of art from former Jewish property in American collections. Multiple came before it, that Allied soldiers personally enriched themselves to pieces or they took as a “souvenir”.

Looted Art in Russia

From 1945 to 1947 a number of German cultural property in the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany by Soviet “trophy fees” seized and taken to the Soviet Union. Although 1955 is mounted in the Soviet Union Images of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie were returned, but only in 1992 the Russian government lifted the decades of strict secrecy of the hidden secret in magazines looted art on stocks. In a German-Russian treaty was agreed, “cultural objects unlawfully to the owners’ return. In the following period resulted in Russia the treatment of looted art problem to massive internal political disputes. Multiple told the Duma against the resistance of President Boris Yeltsin, the looted art to the permanent property of Russia. The looted art is considered an essential question, currently still unsolved problem in the German-Russian relations.

In the 1990s, the Pushkin Museum and the Historical Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg went on to to extract prey art collections from the secret camps and publicly display in exhibitions. So was 1995 the hermitage French paintings from the 19th Century from the collection of Carl Friedrich von Siemens, Eduard von der Heydt, Alice Meyer, Otto Gerstenberg, Otto Krebs, Bernhard Koehler and Monica axis. A year later there followed the exhibition of master drawings from German private collections. 1996 was the so-called Treasure of Priam and 2007, the Merovingian finds from the Museum of Pre-and Early History, including the scabbard of good stone to the Pushkin Museum. Other important objects of looted art in Russia are extensive holdings of the Kunsthalle Bremen (including the so-called Baldin collection), the estates of Ferdinand Lassalle and Walther Rathenau, the Gotha library holdings and library of the royal armory in Wernigerode and the Wartburg. 2008 it was announced that 87 paintings of Suermondt Ludwig Museum Aachen s are issued in the museum of the Ukrainian city of Simferopol, which were considered lost until 2005.

The Bronze Age gold treasure Eberswalde was 2013 in the exhibition – shown “Bronze Age Europe without borders” in Saint Petersburg. In a brief speech at the opening of the exhibition on 21 March 2013 urged the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Russian government to return the stolen German heritage.

Looted Art in Poland

As Berlinka (Collection) (Polish for “coming out of Berlin”), also Pruski skarb (“Prussia treasure”) in Poland is the largest collection of German cultural assets and from a precious original manuscripts, including letters of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called and Ludwig van Beethoven, which today is in Polish possession. After these had been outsourced at the end of the Second World War from the Prussian State Library in Berlin in a Silesian monastery, they were transported from there in the spring of 1945. Over four decades, they were regarded as war loss. Specialists kept the stocks of a possible decline, today they are held in the Jagiellonenbibliothek in Krakow. The Polish Aviation Museum in Krakow is one of its treasures and pieces from the former “Goring Collection”.

Provenance Research

The so-called Washington Declaration (Washington Principles) of 3 December 1998 – actually “principles of the Washington Conference Principles on works of art that were confiscated by the Nazis” – is one of the signatories to legally binding instrument to identify the seized during the National Socialist period art, to make their pre-war owners or heirs locate and to find a “just and fair solution”. Germany in 1994, the coordinating body already had been established for Cultural Property in Bremen, which was an extended jurisdiction in 1998 and was moved to Magdeburg.


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•Elizabeth Simpson (ed.): The Spoils of War.World War II and Its Aftermath. The Loss, Reappearance, and Recovery of Cultural Property. Abrams, New York, NY, 1997, ISBN 0-8109-4469-3.

•Birgit Schwarz: Hitler’s Museum.The photo albums “Gemäldegalerie Linz”. Documents to the “Führer Museum”. Bohlau, Vienna and Others 2004, ISBN 3-205-77054-4.

•Nancy H. Yeide: Beyond Dreams of Avarice.The Hermann Goering Collection. . With an introduction by Robert M. Edsel. Laurel Publishing, Dallas, TX, 2009, ISBN 978-0-9774349-1-6, (English).

Museum of Art

Culture (National Socialism)

Art theft

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