Looted Art - Looting of Countries - Looting of Germany

Looting of Germany

After World War II, Germany was looted by Allied and Soviet forces; the systematic pillaging and looting by the Allies (particularly the Soviet Union) is still causing disputes and conflicts between Germany, Russia and the United States, as many of the objects have never been returned to Germany.

The Soviet plunder of Europe's art treasures constituted institutionalized revenge, while the American military's role in the stealing of Europe's treasures mostly involved individuals looting for personal gain.

The looting of Germany by the Soviet Union was not limited to official Trophy Brigades, but included many ordinary soldiers and officials who plundered for personal reasons. At least 2.5 million artworks and 10 million books and manuscripts disappeared in the Soviet Union and later in Russia, including but not limited to Gutenberg Bibles and Impressionist paintings once in German private collections. According to Time magazine, the Soviets created special "hit lists ... of what the Soviet Union wanted" and followed the historical "examples" given by Napoleon, Hitler, British and American armies. Other estimates focus on German artworks and cultural treasures supposedly secured against bombing in safe places that were looted after World War II, detailing 200,000 works of art, three kilometers of archival material and three million books.

Germany's collections lost 180,000 artworks, which, according to cultural experts are "being held in secret depots in Russia and Poland". The stolen artworks include sculptures by Nicola Pisano, reliefs by Donatello, Gothic Madonnas, paintings by Botticelli and Van Dyck and Baroque works rendered in stone and wood. In 2007, Germany published a catalog of missing artworks to document the extent, prevent the resale, and speed up the return of the war booty. Berlin's State Museum alone lost around 400 artworks during World War II. The German state (Land) of Saxony-Anhalt still maintains a list entitled Beutekunst ("Looted Art") of more than 1000 missing paintings and books believed confiscated by the US or the Soviet Union.

Poland is also in possession of some collections that Germany evacuated to remote places in Eastern Germany (occupied Poland or Regained Territories). Among those there is a large collection from Berlin, which in Polish referred to as Berlinka. Another notable collection in Polish possession is Hermann Göring's collection of 25 historic airplanes (Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung) – ironically, it contains two Polish planes captured by Germans during their invasion of Poland (including a PZL P-11c of Army Kraków). Poland refuses to return those collections to Germany unless Germany returns some of the collections looted in Poland and still in its possession in exchange.

Entire libraries and archives with files from all over Europe were looted and their files taken to Russia by the Soviet Trophy Brigades. The Russian State Military Archive (Rossiiskii Gosudarstvenni Voennyi Arkhiv- RGVA) still contains a large number of files of foreign origin, including papers relating to Jewish organisations.

Berlin's Gemäldegalerie at Friedrichshain lost 441 major paintings, among them seven works by Peter Paul Rubens, three Caravaggios and three Van Dycks. The looted artworks might still be in "secret depositories ... in Moscow and St Petersburg". Veteran BBC foreign correspondent Charles Wheeler, then Berlin correspondent of the BBC's German Service, received a small painting as a wedding present in 1952 from an East German farmer, given in return for some potatoes. The portrait of Eleonora of Toledo (1522–1562), the daughter of the Neapolitan viceroy and wife of the first Duke of Florence, Cosimo di Medici I, which he found from the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, had been looted from the Gemäldegalerie. The gallery had photographed the picture by Alessandro Allori (1535–1607) before closing down and, in 1939, putting its collection in secure storage areas, which Soviet troops broke into at the war's end. Wheeler covered the process in It's My Story: Looted Art for BBC Radio 4, contacting the Commission for Looted Art, the identification of the painting's rightful owner in Germany and the hand-over in Berlin. On May 31, 2006, the commission, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, representing the Berlin state museums, announced the return of the painting.

The Eberswalde Gold Treasures and German Merovingian Art Treasures were taken from Berlin to Soviet Russia.

British troops and the Naval War Trophies Committee also looted artworks from Germany, including several pictures by marine artist Claus Bergen ("Wreath in the North Sea in Memory of the Battle of Jutland", "The Commander U-boat", "Admiral Hipper's Battle Cruiser at Jutland" and "The German Pocket Battleship Admiral Von Scheer Bombarding the Spanish Coast"), Carl Saltzmann ("German Fleet Manoeuvres on the High Seas") and Ehrhard ("Before the Hurricane at Apia Samoa" and "During the Hurricane at Apia"). The pictures were looted from the Mürwik Naval Academy at Flensburg, as documented by a 1965–66 Ministry of defense file in the UK National Archives. The trophies were sent to British museums, five remain in the National Maritime Museum in London (NMM), and one picture ("Before the Hurricane at Apia") was lent to HMS Calliope in 1959, lost, and formally written off in 1979. The National Maritime Museum admitted in January 2007 that "the documentation at the NMM and the National Archives is not complete"; according to spoliation guidelines, the pictures should be regarded as having been "wrongly taken".

On 25 August 1955, the Soviet functionaries handed over to the representatives of East Germany 1240 paintings from the Dresden Gallery, including the Sistine Madonna and Sleeping Venus, which had been "saved and restored" by the Soviets after the Battle of Berlin. According to Irina Antonova, "a cultural bureaucrat in the traditional Soviet style" and Director of the Pushkin Museum, more than 1,500,000 items of cultural value (including the frieze reliefs of the Pergamon Altar and the Grünes Gewölbe treasures) were restituted to German museums at the behest of the Soviet government in the 1950s and 1960s. "We have not received anything in return," Antonova observed in 1999.

The reasons for the Soviet looting of Germany and the subsequent Russian attempts are revealed in an interview that Irina Antonova gave to the German Die Welt newspaper; the interview specifically focuses on the Russian notion of looting, using the historical example of Napoleon as a direct reference for the Russian justification of the Plunder of Germany: "Three quarters of all the Italian art in the Louvre came to Paris with Napoleon. We all know this, yet the works remain in the Louvre. I know the place where Veronese's large painting used to hang in the monastery of Vicenza. Now it's in the Louvre where it will stay. It's the same with the Elgin Marbles in London. That's just the way it is."

At the 1998 conference, Eizenstat was "impressed ... almost overwhelmed" when Boris Yeltsin's government promised "to identify and return art that was looted by the Nazis and then plundered by Stalin's troops as 'reparations' for Germany's wartime assault." Alarmed by these negotiations, the State Duma of the Russian Federation promulgated a law (15 April 1998) whereby "the cultural valuables translocated to the USSR after World War II" were declared national patrimony of the Russian Federation and each occasion of their alienation was to be sanctioned by the Russian parliament. The preamble to the law classifies the remaining valuables, such as Priam's Treasure, as a compensation for "the unprecedented nature of Germany's war crimes" and irreparable damage inflicted by the German invaders on Russian cultural heritage during the war.

Following the law adopted by the State Duma on 17 April 2002, the Hermitage Museum returned to Frankfurt an der Oder the looted medieval stained-glass windows of the Marienkirche; six of the 117 individual pieces, however, still remain missing. Andrei Vorobiev, the former Academic Secretary of the Museum, confirmed in 2005 the assumption that they are still in Russia (in the Pushkin Museum.) According to the Hermitage, "As a gesture in return, the German company Wintershall paid for the restoration of a church destroyed during the Second World War, Novgorod's Church of the Assumption on Volotovoe Pole". In addition, the Hermitage did demand and receive a compensation of USD 400,000 for "restoring and exhibiting the windows".

A Silver collection consisting of 18 pieces was plundered from the NKVD after World War II from the German Prince of Anhalt, who suffered under both the Nazis and Bolsheviks alike, before he was posthumously rehabilitated. In a so-called "good will gesture", the collection was returned to the descendants of the Prince by the Ministry of Culture even though the Russian prosecutor originally refused the request of the children of the rehabilitated prince.

Lev Bezymenski, a Russian officer and translator who became a controversial historian and professor at Moscow's military academy, died on June 26, 2007, at age 86 in Moscow. He was a military intelligence officer of the 1st Belorussian Front under Marshal Georgy Zhukov, participated in the interrogation of German Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus, and translated the message confirming Adolf Hitler's death for Stalin. After the Red Army captured Berlin in 1945, he investigated Adolf Hitler's death and headquarters. In his many articles and books (Bezymenski, L. Stalin and Hitler (2002), Bezymenski, L. (1968). The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives. Harcourt Brace. ISBN 0-7181-0634-2), he failed to mention that he looted several containers filled with around 100 gramophone records from the Reich Chancellery, recordings performed by the best orchestras of Europe and Germany with the best soloists of the age. The collection stolen by Bezymenski, who himself was Jewish, included many Russian and Jewish artists. Bezymenski brought the looted collection of the Führer's favourite discs to Moscow, where he felt "guilty about his larceny and hid the records in an attic, where his daughter, Alexandra Besymenskaja, discovered them by accident in 1991." Bezymenski understood the political implications of his actions and "kept quiet about the records during his lifetime for fear that he would be accused of looting." The collection still remains in Russia.

Read more about this topic:  Looted Art, Looting of Countries

Famous quotes containing the word germany:

    We are fighting in the quarrel of civilization against barbarism, of liberty against tyranny. Germany has become a menace to the whole world. She is the most dangerous enemy of liberty now existing.
    Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)