25 / 08 / 2020Marina Amaral

Troops find loot hidden in church German loot stored in church at Ellingen, Germany. November 4, 1945.

Hitler’s interest in art (…) never waned, and after launching World War II, he led the Nazis in the systematic looting of famous works of art that formed the cultural soul of Western civilization. It wasn’t enough for the Nazis to rob millions of people of their futures, they wanted to strip them of their past as well. Hitler’s forces plundered priceless paintings, sculptures, drawings, religious relics and cultural artifacts from Europe’s churches, universities and private collections, particularly those belonging to Jewish families. They heisted musical instruments, entire libraries, hundreds of ancient Torah scrolls, thousands of church bells and even the stained glass right out of Strasbourg Cathedral.

In the greatest theft in art history, Nazi leaders used the inventories of Europe’s elite museums as a veritable “shopping list” for items to add to their personal collections. They pilfered works by a palette of the world’s greatest masters such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Picasso and da Vinci. Hermann Goering, like Hitler an art enthusiast, visited the Jeu de Paume in Paris 20 times to browse its works. He seized hundreds of items for his own collection and needed to attach two railroad cars to his personal train to haul away his loot. In Berlin, Hitler leafed through photo albums filled with pictures of stolen artworks, and just as if he was flipping through a mail-order catalog, he selected those pieces he wanted for the world’s greatest art museum that he intended to build in his hometown of Linz, Austria—the Fuhrermuseum.

Sgt. Harry Ettlinger (right) and Lt. Dale Ford were among the Monuments Men who, in 1945, helped repatriate a Rembrandt found among a trove of art in a German salt mine.

 

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