The Rape of Europa
Guest Post by Michele Drier
On May 8, 1945, America, Great Britain and their allies celebrated VE-Day, Victory in Europe, and the end of World War II in Europe. Although full peace wasn’t to come until VJ Day, August 15, 1945, in May and June of that year a group of men began a job that still continues more than 60 years later.
Millions of people met their death on the battlefields and in the concentration and death camps in Europe, but they weren’t the only casualties. Some estimates say that about 20 percent of all the know art in Europe at the beginning of Hitler’s rise, was stolen by the Nazis.
Much of this stolen art was shipped to Germany and leading Nazis, including Goering, built huge collections of pieces taken from Europe’s Jews as well as museums and private collections all across Europe. Not only Western Europe; pieces from The Hermitage, one of Russia’s premiere museums, also disappeared. One treasure that has never been found or recovered is Catherine the Great’s Amber Room from the Summer Palace, a room whose walls were constructed completely of amber.
In 1943, Franklin Roosevelt approved a group of museum curators and art specialists as “The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas,” a group of men who became known as the Monuments Men.
This group worked to find and return thousands of pieces of art looted by the Nazi during the previous years. Their work was formally wrapped up on December 31, 1948, but recovery has continued for the past 60-odd years.
In 2006, one of the most stunning pieces, Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Ada Bloch-Bauer” was finally returned to the sole surviving family member of the Viennese family who lost it to the Nazis in 1938. Also, in February 2006, the Dutch government returned 202 old master paintings to the heir of an art dealer whose collections was forcible sold to the Nazis in 1940.
And less than a year ago, The Associated Press reported, “A panel has recommended that seven paintings by Austrian artists contained in a prestigious Vienna art collection be returned because they were either seized by the Nazis or given up against the will of their Jewish owners.” – Associated Press story, Nov. 23, 2010.
These shadowy causalities of the war and the Nazi’s greed have been documented in a movie about the Monument Men and their search for treasures—“The Rape of Europa”.
Although not all stolen pieces will never be found, by keeping the story of Nazi theft green, even 60 or 70 years later some of the art may be returned to its rightful owners.
For further information on the Monument Men and stolen art go to http://www.rapeofeuropa.com/
Michele Drier was born in Santa Cruz to a pioneer family and is a fifth generation Californian. She’s lived and worked all over the state and has called both Southern and Northern California home. During her career in journalism — as a reporter and editor at large and small daily newspapers – she won awards for producing investigative series. Visit her website at www.micheledrier.com
Michele Drier’s mystery, Edited for Death, traces a fictional da Vinci drawing looted by the Nazis and stolen by a young GI in Heidelberg.