PLUNDER…AND PLUNDER COPIOUSLY
The Nazis believed they were the superior race, the one set aside from all others. Yet, they behaved like any other conquering horde when sweeping through Western Europe. While focusing on natural resources in the East, the Nazis spent much of their time in Western Europe plundering some of the world’s great artworks and treasures. Hermann Goring’s famous line about his attitude towards the occupied territories of the East, “I intend to plunder and plunder copiously” could apply equally to Western Europe.
Gary Brasher of the U.S. National Archives estimates that twenty percent of European art as looted by the Nazis. Through Allied efforts, much of the stolen treasure has been recovered and returned to its rightful owners. The United States formed a unit of art experts in World War II to find looted treasures. Their efforts produced a book and a movies titled “The Monuments Men”. However, as many as 100,000 art works are still missing even with some recent discoveries that made worldwide headlines.
Imagine entering a rundown flat in Munich and finding art worth 1.35 billion dollars stashed among rotting food and broken down homemade furniture. The discovery was all too real in November 2013. An 80 year old man, under surveillance after crossing the border with a huge amount of cash, lived in the apartment and was arrested after the discovery. He apparently collected the art through connections he made while he was director of the Hamburg Art Association before and during World War Two. Found amid the apartment squalor were drawings and etchings from Picasso and Matisse.
More recently, hundreds of fortune hunters are combing a mountainous area in southwest Poland for a legendary Nazi train supposedly loaded with stolen art treasures, precious metals and gems. Two explorers claim to have found what they believe is the entrance to an underground city hidden in the heavily forested mountain. The city was supposedly built on Adolf Hitler’s orders. The Polish government remains skeptical but has taken the precaution of sending troops to look for potential Nazi booby-traps in the area. Stay tuned.
- Jackson Speilvogel and David Redles, Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History. 7th 2014. (Boston: Pearson Education Inc.) 225.
- Photo: Courtesy of United States National Archives. http://www.archives.gov/research/holocaust/records-and-research/documenting-nazi-plunder-of-european-art.html
- Gary Bradsher, “Documenting Nazi Plunder of European Art” November 1997. Holocaust-era Assets, The National Archives http://www.archives.gov/research/holocaust/records-and-research/documenting-nazi-plunder-of-european-art.html
- “Nazi Plunder: 1,500 Modern Artworks Found in Munich Flat” November 4, 2013. Spiegel Online International. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/munich-authorities-discovered-1500-works-of-art-stolen-by-nazis-a-931657.html
- Joanna Berendt, “Possible Nazi Tunnels Fuel Treasure Seekers in Poland.” September 29, 2015. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/world/europe/possible-nazi-tunnels-fuel-treasure-seekers-in-poland.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad