This new film, “The Rape of Europa” is just being released in New York this week, and should start to make the art house circuit soon. Metacritic seems to be giving the film good marks so far.
It details the spoliation by the Nazis, and the efforts of allied soldiers known as the monument men to track down the works. The theft was on such a grand scale that the issues are still fresh today. Poland and Germany have engaged in a very bitter dispute in recent weeks. The death of Bruno Lohse revealed he had been storing a looted Pissarro in a Swiss bank vault since the end of the war. The Altmann case and the Klimts are given a prominent role as well.
I am eager to see the film, but just watching this trailer I’m struck by how much more powerful images and music are than the articles I write. I can give an academic view, but seeing the works and the black and white pictures bring the story much more depth and emotion. Whether that produces better cultural policy solutions is questionable I think. Perhaps we are allowing emotion to cloud our judgment in some of these cases?
I haven’t seen the film of course, but we shouldn’t put the blame on Germany alone, though they do rightfully deserve the most criticism. The loss of art and antiquities is an inevitable part of conflict. Russian forces plundered countless works from East Germany, and allied bombs destroyed medieval buildings in Dresden and at Montecassino. An American GI also stole the Quedlinberg treasures, and his family was able to sell them back to the church in the 90’s. In the end, the movie should speak to a fundamental question which still plagues us: what is the value of cultural property? Is it essential to a people’s heritage? Is it worth sacrificing lives or other economic development?