The Full Wiki

Nazi plunder: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Nazi plunder

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nazi plunder refers to art theft and other items stolen as a result of the organized looting of European countries during the time of the Third Reich by agents acting on behalf of the ruling Nazi Party of Germany. Plundering occurred from 1933 until the end of World War II, although most plunder was acquired during the war. In addition to lucre, such as silver and currency, cultural items of great significance were stolen, including paintings, ceramics, books, and religious treasures. Although many of these items were recovered by the Allies immediately following the war, many more are still missing. Currently, there is an international effort underway to identify Nazi plunder that still remains unaccounted for, with the aim of ultimately returning the items to the families of their rightful owners.


Systematic Nazi looting

Adolf Hitler was an unsuccessful artist who was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Nonetheless, he thought of himself as a connoisseur of the arts and when he became Chancellor of Germany, he enforced his aesthetic ideal on the nation. The type of art that was favoured among Hitler and the Nazi party were classical portraits and landscapes by Old Masters, particularly those of Germanic origin. Modern art that did not match this was dubbed degenerate art by the Third Reich.

Nazi looting organizations

While the Nazis were in power, they plundered cultural property from every territory they occupied. This was conducted in a systematic manner with organizations specifically created to determine which public and private collections were most valuable to the Nazi Regime. Some of the objects were earmarked for Hitler's never realized Führermuseum, some objects went to other high ranking officials such as Hermann Göring, while other objects were traded to fund Nazi activities.

In 1940, an organization known as the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die Besetzten Gebiete (The Reichsleiter Rosenberg Institute for the Occupied Territories), or ERR, was formed, headed for Rosenberg by Gerhard Utikal. The first operating unit, the western branch for France, Belgium an the Netherlands, called the Dienststelle Westen, was located in Paris. The chief of this Dienststelle was Kurt von Behr. Its original purpose was to collect Jewish and Freemasonic books and documents, either for destruction, or for removal to Germany for further "study". However, late in 1940, Hermann Göring, who in fact controlled the ERR, issued an order that effectively changed the mission of the ERR, mandating it to seize "Jewish" art collections and other objects. The loot had to be collected in a central in Paris, the Museum Jeu de Paume. At this collection point worked art histiorians an other personnel who inventoried the loot before sending it to Germany. Göring also commanded that the loot would first be divided between Hitler and himself. For this reason, from the end of 1940 to the end of 1942 he traveled twenty times to Paris. In the Museum Jeu de Paume, art dealer Bruno Lohse staged 20 expositions of the newly looted art objects, especially for Göring, from which Göring selected at least 594 pieces for his own collection.[1] Göring made Lohse his liaison-officer and installed him in the ERR in March 1941 as the deputy leader of this unit. Only the objects of art, which Hitler and Göring did not want, served as a loot for other Nazi leaders. Under Rosenberg and Göring's leadership, the ERR seized 21,903 art objects from German-occupied countries.[2] Other Nazi looting organizations included the Dienststelle Mühlmann, which Göring also controlled and operated primarily in the Netherlands, Belgium, and a Sonderkommando Kuensberg connected to the minister of foreign affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop, which operated first in France, then in Russia and North Africa.

Hitler later ordered that all confiscated works of art were to be made directly available to him. Art collections from prominent Jewish families, including the Rothschilds, the Rosenbergs and the Goudstikkers and the Schloss Family were targeted because of their significant value. By the end of the war, the Third Reich amassed hundreds of thousands of cultural objects.

Soviet Union

To investigate and estimate Nazi plunder in the USSR during 1941 through 1945, the Soviet State Extraordinary Commission for Ascertaining and Investigating the Crimes Committed by the German-Fascist Invaders and Their Accomplices was formed on 2 November 1942. During the Great Patriotic War and afterwards, until 1991, the Commission collected materials on Nazi crimes in the USSR, including incidents of plunder. Immediately following the war, the Commission outlined damage in detail to sixty-four of the most valuable Soviet museums, out of 427 damaged ones. In the Russian SFSR, 173 museums were found to have been plundered by the Nazis, with looted items numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

After the dissolution of the USSR, the Government of the Russian Federation formed the State Commission for the Restitution of Cultural Valuables to replace the Soviet Commission. Experts from this Russian institution originally consulted the work of the Soviet Commission, yet continue to catalogue artworks lost during the Great Patriotic War museum by museum. As of 2008, lost artworks of 14 museums and the libraries of Voronezh Oblast, Kursk Oblast, Pskov Oblast, Rostov Oblast, Smolensk Oblast, Northern Caucasus, Gatchina, Peterhof Palace, Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), Novgorod and Novgorod Oblast, as well as the bodies of the Russian State Archives and CPSU Archives, were catalogued in 15 volumes, all of which were made available online. They contain detailed information on 1,148,908 items of lost artworks. The total number of lost items is unknown so far, because cataloguing work for other damaged Russian museums is ongoing.[3]


After the occupation of Poland by German and Soviet forces in September 1939, the Nazi and Stalinist regimes attempted to exterminate its population as well as culture.[4] The establishment of the General Government by the Nazis, which eventually included all Soviet-occupied areas, as a means to eventually convert Poland into a German province aided in this process.

Thousands of art objects were looted, as the Nazis systematically carried out a plan of looting prepared even before the start of hostilities. 25 museums and many other facilities were destroyed.[5] The total cost of Nazi theft and destruction of Polish art is estimated at 20 billion dollars, or an estimated 43% of Polish cultural heritage; over 516,000 individual art pieces were looted, including 2,800 paintings by European painters; 11,000 paintings by Polish painters; 1,400 sculptures; 75,000 manuscripts; 25,000 maps; 90,000 books, including over 20,000 printed before 1800; and hundreds of thousands of other items of artistic and historical value. Germany still has much Polish material looted during WWII. For decades there have been mostly futile negotiations between Poland and Germany concerning the return of the looted property.[6]

The Führermuseum

After Hitler became Chancellor, he made plans to transform his home city of Linz, Austria into the Third Reich’s capital city for the arts. Hitler hired architects to work from his own designs to build several galleries and museums, which would collectively be known as the Führermuseum. Hitler wanted to fill his museum with the greatest art treasures in the world, and believed that most of the world’s finest art belonged to Germany after having been looted during the Napoleonic and First World wars.

The Hermann Göring Collection

The Hermann Göring Collection, a personal collection of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, was another large collection including confiscated property, consisted of approximately 50 percent of works of art confiscated from the enemies of the Reich.[7] Assembled in large measure by art dealer Bruno Lohse, Göring's adviser and ERR representative in Paris, in 1945 the collection included over 2,000 individual pieces including more than 300 paintings. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration's Consolidated Interrogation Report No. 2 states that Göring never crudely looted, instead he always managed "to find a way of giving at least the appearance of honesty, by a token payment or promise thereof to the confiscation authorities. Although he and his agents never had an official connection with the German confiscation organizations, they nevertheless used them to the fullest extent possible."[7]

Nazi storage of looted objects

Dwight D. Eisenhower (right) inspects stolen artwork in a salt mine in Merkers, accompanied by Omar Bradley (left) and George S. Patton (center)

The Third Reich amassed hundreds of thousands of objects from occupied nations and stored them in several key locations, such as Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Nazi headquarters in Munich. However, as the Allied forces gained advantage in the war and bombed Germany's cities and historic institutions, Germany "began storing the artworks in salt mines and caves for protection from Allied bombing raids. These mines and caves offered the appropriate humidity and temperature conditions for artworks."[8]

Post war recovery effort

The Allies created special commissions, such as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) organization to help protect famous European monuments from destruction, and after the war, to travel to once-Nazi-occupied territories to find Nazi art repositories. In 1944 and 1945 one of the greatest challenges for the "Monuments Men" was to keep Allied forces from plundering and "taking artworks and sending them home to friends and family"; When "off-limits" warning signs failed to protect the artworks the "Monuments Men" started to mark the storage places with white tape, which was used by Allied troops as a warning sign for unexploded mines.[8] They recovered thousands of objects that were pillaged by the Nazis.

The allies found these plundered artworks in over 1,050 repositories in Germany and Austria at the end of World War II. In summer 1945, Capt. Walter Farmer became the collecting point's first director. The first shipment of artworks arriving at Wiesbaden Collection Point included cases of antiquities, Egyptian art, Islamic artifacts, and paintings from the Kaiser Friedrich Museum. The collecting point also received materials from the Reichsbank and Nazi-looted, Polish, liturgical collections. At its height, Wiesbaden stored, identified, and restituted approximately 700,000 individual objects including paintings and sculptures, mainly to keep them away from the Soviet Army and wartime reparations.[9]

The Allies collected the plundered artworks and stored them in a Central Collection Point in Munich until they could be returned. The identifiable works of art were returned to the countries from which they were taken, and the governments of each nation would then return the objects to the proper owners. When the Munich collection point was closed, the owners of many of the objects had not been found. Nations were also unable to find all of the owners or their heirs.

Effects of Nazi looting today

Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man was looted from the Czartoryski Museum in 1939. Its current whereabouts are unknown.

Approximately 20% of the art in Europe was looted by the Nazis, and there are well over 100,000 items that have not been returned to their rightful owners.[10] The majority of what is still missing includes everyday objects such as china, crystal or silver.

Some objects of great cultural significance remain missing, though no one knows how many. This is a major issue for the art market, since legitimate organizations do not want to deal in objects with unclear ownership titles. Since the mid 1990s, after several books, magazines, and newspapers began exposing the subject to the general public, many dealers, auction houses and museums have grown more careful about checking the provenance of objects that are available for purchase in case they are looted. Some museums in the United States and elsewhere have agreed to check the provenance of works in their collections with the implied promise that suspect works would be returned to rightful owners if the evidence so dictates. But the process is time-consuming and slow, and very few disputed works have been found in public collections.

In the last two decades, information has become more accessible due to political and economic changes as well as advances in technology. Privacy laws in some countries have expired so records that were once difficult to obtain are now open to the public. Information from former Soviet countries that was previously unobtainable is now available, and many organisations have posted information online, making it widely accessible.

The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), a not-for-profit educational and research organization, has helped provide information leading to restitution.

See also


  1. ^ Petropoulos, Jonathan. Art As Politics in the Third Reich, University of North Carolina Press, 1999, p. 190.
  2. ^ Walker, Andrew: Nazi War Trials. Pocket Essentials, United Kingdom, 2006 ISBN 1903047501 pg. 141
  3. ^ (Russian) Online Catalogue of Lost Artworks, Federal Agency of Culture and Cinematography of the Russian Federation
  4. ^ Olsak-Glass, Judith (January 1999). "Review of Piotrowski's Poland's Holocaust". Sarmatian Review. Retrieved 2008-01-24. "The prisons, ghettos, internment, transit, labor and extermination camps, roundups, mass deportations, public executions, mobile killing units, death marches, deprivation, hunger, disease, and exposure all testify to the 'inhuman policies of both Hitler and Stalin' and 'were clearly aimed at the total extermination of Polish citizens, both Jews and Christians. Both regimes endorsed a systematic program of genocide.'" 
  5. ^ (Polish) Rewindykacja dóbr kultury at Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  6. ^ (Polish) Rosjanie oddają skradzione dzieła sztuki, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2007-10-14
  7. ^ a b Anne Rothfeld. Nazi Looted Art. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. The Holocaust Records Preservation Project, Part 1, Fall 2002, Vol. 34, No. 3, Available:
  8. ^ a b Anne Rothfeld. Nazi Looted Art. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. The Holocaust Records Preservation Project, Part 2. Fall 2002, Vol. 34, No. 3, Available:
  9. ^
  10. ^ The National Archives of the United States, Documenting Nazi Plunder of European Art, Greg Bradsher, November 1997

Further reading

  • Feliciano, Hector. The Lost Museum, Harper Collins, New York, 1997
  • Harclerode, Peter and Pittaway, Brendan. The Lost Masters: WWII and the Looting of Europe's Treasurehouses, Orion Books Ltd, London, 1999
  • Löhr, Hanns Christian: Das Braune Haus der Kunst: Hitler und der Sonderauftrag Linz, Akademie-Verlag, 2005 ISBN 3-05-004156-0
  • Nicholas, Lynn. The Rape of Europa, Macmillan, London, 1994
  • Petropolis, Jonathan. Art as Politics in the Third Reich, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1996
  • Petropolis, Jonathan. The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany, Penguin Press, London, 2000
  • Roxan, David and Wanstall, Ken. The Jackdaw of Linz; the Story of Hitler's Art Thefts. London, Cassell, 1964.
  • Schwarz, Birgit: Hitler's Museum. Die Fotoalben Gemäldegalerie Linz, Wien, Böhlau Verlag, 2004 ISBN 3-205-77054-4
  • OSS Report: Activity of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg in France, 15 August 1945
  • Aly, Götz: Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State. Metropolitan Books. January, 2007 ISBN 0805079262, ISBN 978-0805079265
  • Nancy Yeide: Beyond Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection. Laurel Publishing. 2009. ISBN 9780977434916 (Foreword by Robert M. Edsel)
  • Robert M. Edsel (Contributions by Brett Witter): Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. Center Street. 2009. ISBN 978-1599951492

External links

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address