The Rape of Europa

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?

The NY Times has a short overview, as does Lee Rosenbaum.

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2 thoughts on “The Rape of Europa”

  1. Pillage and destruction of cultural property has always been a by-product of armed conflict. Yet no military power in history has equaled the Third Reich in its ability to use culture not merely as a trophy of war, but as a weapon of war: a means to dominate, demoralize and control the nations that it sought to conquer by stripping them of their cultural and spiritual identity.

    Only through the systematic confiscation, theft, concealment, forced sale and destruction of millions of artistic, religious and historical works and monuments would Europe, in Hitler’s mind, become a suitable home for a tausend jahre reich with Berlin as its capital. Pulling the plug on this diabolical plan is one of the great stories of modern time, brilliantly recounted by Lynn Nicholas in her 1994 book The Rape of Europa, which has been updated and adapted for the screen with remarkable never-before-seen footage by the writer-director-producer team of Bonny Cohen, Richard Berge and Nicolle Newnham.

    Truly a “must see” documentary, The Rape of Europa reveals the heroism and tenacity of those who risked their lives to save what others could only covet, control or destroy, and continue to undo the damage caused by the German war machine more than 50 years later.

    Read the full review on the new SAFE blog SAFECORNER:

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