The Machinery of Nazi Art Looting

The Nazi Law on the Confiscation of Cultural Property in Poland
  • Wojciech W. Kowalski
Chapter

Abstract

World war II is commonly associated first of all with tremendous human losses and demolished towns, which were often left in almost complete ruin. In view of millions of victims, tragic memories from the death camps, or photographs of the sea of ruins, the plunder of works of art, even though effected on a massive scale, seems to make no impression.1 In fact, it is often treated as less important, especially since a considerable part of the plundered cultural property was restored after the war. This ‘second position’ on the list of war misfortunes should not, however, overshadow the extent of the losses that resulted from thoroughly planned and meticulously organized confiscation of works of art, books and archives. As in many other fields of activity, the Nazi machine generally operated with no failures, and the goals that it was supposed to achieve were often diversified, depending, for example, on the nationality of the people subjected to expropriation, or on the occupied country in which it functioned.

Keywords

Europe Income Defend Lost Folk 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    As an official French report noted: ‘Différentes méthodes furent employées par les Allemands en vue d’accaparer des objets d’art ou précieux. La méthode officielle incombait à l’Organisation Rosenberg, que présidait Goering; elle consistait à profiter de l’occupation pour enlever toutes les collections juives, (…) Le contenu des Musées nationaux, évacué dès le début de la guerre vers les châteaux de la Loire et du Sud-Ouest, est resté en France. Le Traité de Paix devait s’en occuper. Par contre, près de 2.000 piéces du Musée de l’Armée furent emmenées en Allemagne. La plupart ont été retrouvées d’ailleurs. (…) En province, les “déménagements” des musées n’ont été ni nombreux ni importants :…’. Spoliations et restitutions des biens culturels publics et privés. (Objets d’art ou précieux). La Documentation Française. Notes et Etudes Documentaires. No. 1. 109, Paris, 14 Avril 1949, pp.3–4. For more details on the relevant Nazi policy towards France see also: Ch. de Jaeger, The Linz File, Hitler’s Plunder of Europe’s Art. (Exeter, Webb & Bower, 1981), p.64 et seq.;Google Scholar
  2. L.H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europe. The Fate of Europe’ Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p.115 et seq.;Google Scholar
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  5. and two works of the Mission d’étude sur la spoliation des Juifs de France: Rapport Général (Paris, 2000)Google Scholar
  6. and I. le Masne de Chermont and D. Schulmann (eds.), Le pillage de l’art en France pendant l’occupation et la situation des 2000 oeuvres confiées aux musées nationaux (Paris: La documentation Française, 2000).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Tentative List of Jewish Cultural Treasures in Axis-Occupied Countries. By the Research Staff of the Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction. Jewish Social Studies, 1946, Vol.8, No.1, Supplement. Ch. Estreicher (ed.), Cultural Losses of Poland. Index of Polish Cultural Losses during German Occupation 1939–1943. (London HMSO, 1943).Google Scholar
  8. W. Tomkiewicz, Catalogue of Paintings Removed from Poland by the German Occupation Authorities during the years 1939–1945. Vol. I. Foreign Paintings. (Warsaw, Ministry of Culture and Art., 1950), Vol. II. Polish Paintings. (Warsaw, Ministry of Culture and Art., 1953).Google Scholar
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  10. 6.
    For more details see: W. Kowalski, Art Treasures and War. A Study on the Restitution of Looted Cultural Property, pursuant to Public International Law. (Leicester, Institute of Art and Law, 1998).Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    For the review of all military regulations concerning property matters see: Deutsches Recht, Wochenausgabe 1941, pp.828 et seq. They are commented in: K.M. Pospieszalski, Polska pod niemieckim prawem 1939–1945 (Ziemie Zachodnie). [Poland under the German Law 1939–1945 (Western Lands)]. (Poznań, Instytut Zachodni, 1946), pp.73 et seq., see also by the same author: Hitlerowskie ‘prawo’ okupacyjne w Polsce. Wybór dokumentów. Część I. Ziemie ‘wcielone’. [Hitler’s occupational ‘law’ in Poland. A Selection of Documents. Part I. Incorporated Territories]. (Poznań, Instytut Zachodni, 1952). Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Erste Verordnung zur Durchführung des Erlasses des Führers und Reichskanzlers über Gliederung und Vervaltung der Ostgebiete, 26 October 1939, Reichsgesetzblatt, 1939, I, p.2108, for more information see, in particular, H.J. Klee, Bürgerliche Rechtspflege in den eingegliederten Ostgebieten u. Behandlung polnischen Vermögens. (Berlin, Deckers Verlag G. Schenck, 1941), pp. 13 et seq.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    K.M. Pospieszalski, Hitlerowskie ‘prawo’ okupacyjne w Polsce. Część II. Generaina Gubemia. Wybór dokumentów i próba syntezy. [Hitler’s occupational ‘law’ in Poland. Part II. General Gouvernement. A Selection of Documents and the First Synthesis. (Poznan, Instytut Zachodni, 1958), W. Röhr, E. Heckert, B. Gottberg, J. Wenzel, H.M. Grünthal (eds), Die faschistische Okkupationspolitik in Polen (1939–1945). (Berlin, VEB Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1989).Google Scholar
  14. 23.
    T. Kułakowski, Dokumenty dotyczące eksterminacji kultury polskiej [Documents Related to the Extermination of Polish Culture], Najnowsze dzieje Polski. Materialy i Studia [Modern History of Poland. Materials and Studies], Vol.1, (Warszawa: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1957), p.242. It is worth adding, that according to the information available to the author of this paper, these plans were not accomplished and no books or exhibitions were ever compiled. Nevertheless, because the collection had been secured, the paintings mentioned in the letter were saved form destruction and today they are a pride of the art gallery in the Museum of Silesia in Katowice.Google Scholar
  15. 36.
    For more details see: W. Kowalski, Liquidation of the Effects of World War II in the Area of Culture, (Warsaw: Institute of Culture, 1994), p.21.Google Scholar
  16. 41.
    Background of these legislative works is shown by L. Wooley in A Record of the Work done by the Military Authorities for the Protection of the Treasures of Art and History in War Areas (London, HMSO, 1947), p.5.Google Scholar
  17. 45.
    The 1998 catalogue of lost Polish painting gives more precise data referring only to 442 pictures, while the office responsible for the work on this catalogue gathered more general and often only fragmentary information on about 4600 lost paintings. It is generally acknowledged that the second number also does not reflect real losses. A. Tyczynska, K. Znojewska, Wartime Losses. Polish Painting, Oil Paintings, Pastels, Watercolours lost between 1939 and 1945 within the post-1945 Borders of Poland (Poznan, Ministerstwo Kultury i Sztuki: Biuro Pelnomocnika Rządu do Spraw Polskiego Dziedzictwa Kulturalnego za Granica, 1998).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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  • Wojciech W. Kowalski

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