Catalogue description The report then focuses in detail on 'Germany's predatory methods in relation to works...

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Details of FO 1046/763/5
Reference: FO 1046/763/5

The report then focuses in detail on 'Germany's predatory methods in relation to works of art' which varied according to the different nature, public or private, of the collections. In general, State-owned collections were not subject to looting, whereas privately-owned ones had 'suffered heavily'. The report differentiated three different methods of looting: acts of looting by the German state, acts of looting supported by the state - as in the case of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg or other individual agents, and arbitrary acts of spite and wanton destruction. In the case of acts of looting by the German state, the main examples adduced were the removal 'of all objects of Germanic origins' from the Musée de l'Armée in Paris, and the planned but not completed removal from Alsace of 'ten to fourteen tons of communally owned works of art, including two transport loads of stained glass from the cathedral at Strasbourg', both justified for political reasons. Other examples included 'the personal order of the Fuehrer for the removal, in 1942, from the deposit at Pau [where they were stored by the Belgian government in 1940] of the Dirck Bouts Altarpiece from Louvain and "The adoration of the lamb" by the brothers van Eyck from Ghent', as well as the removal in 1944, 'a few hours before the arrival of the Allies', of the 'Madonna and Child' by Michelangelo and 'numerous Old Master paintings hanging in the sacristy' of the Notre Dame church in Bruges. In the case of Pau, the report records that such removal was 'obviously designed as a reversal of clauses in the Versailles Treaty, but it should be noted that, on this occasion, the entire works of art were carried off to Germany, and not simply those panels which Germany had been forced to surrender under the Reparations settlement'. In the case of Michelangelo's Madonna, 'no explanation other than the German official one has yet been produced'. The report describes the episode as follows: 'on the afternoon of the day before the Allies entered Bruges, the [...] Kunstschutz on the [sic] HQ Supreme Military Commander for Belgium arrived at the Eglise [...] and requested special permission to have one last look at the famous Michelangelo statue which was hidden behind a protective covering of sandbags. [...] In the early hours of the following morning "an assault party consisting of 45 German soldiers, accompanied by art experts, roused the Sacristan, demanded entrance to the Church and removed the works of art". In a letter to the Bishop it was stated that orders had been received to this effect from the Supreme Commander of the German Armed Forces "in order that the treasures might be saved from the dangers of destruction and removal from Europe by the Anglo-American enemy"'. Other state acts of looting of French works of art included the removal of a group of archives previously taken from Spain by Napoleon and returned by the Nazis to General Franco, and the removal of certain books and archives previously taken from Germany and Austria [at the time the German states and Austria-Hungary] by Napoleon and returned to the collections of the German Reich. Finally, the report also recorded two main examples of looting actions by the German state in Italy: 1 The removal, ordered by the Fuehrer and carried out in 1944, of the libraries of the German Archaeological Institute and the Biblioteca Hertziana in Rome, which as international and Italian properties were supposed to be taken into protective custody by the Swedish and Vatican authorities. 2 The relocation of 187 cases containing works of art from the museums of Naples from the Monte Cassino depository to the Vatican between October and December 1943 as agreed between the German Kunstschutz representatives and the Italian administration of fine arts for safety reasons. Transport for this was provided by the Germans through the Hermann Goering Division but only 172 cases were ultimately delivered at the Vatican. When the contents were checked in detail it was discovered that 'en route the Germans had opened and repacked several cases in the course of removing those works of art which they desired'. These included four cases of large bronze statues, two cases of gold objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum, a suit of armour used by the Emperor Charles V, two pictures by Titian, one by Claude Lorrain, one by Raphael, one by Tiepolo, one by Palma Vecchio [etc]. In the case of acts of looting and misappropriation supported by the state, the report records the activity of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg and other individual agents. In 1937 Rosenberg was entrusted by the Fuehrer 'with full authority to bring the art world of Germany into line. Jewish paintings, "cultural-bolshevist" paintings and non-Nordic paintings gradually disappeared from German museums, from private collections and from dealers' shops. The state confiscated collections of Jewish ownership and disposed of all this booty to its own benefit', with the result that 'sales on the international market of pictures from German public collections were quite common between 1936 and 1939'. As regards Jewish private collections, 'Behind the conquering German Army in 1940 arrived the Task Force of Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg, charged primarily with the location, confiscation and removal to Germany of collections owned by Jews. In the case of German Jewish refugees who had succeeded in taking works of art out of Germany, the excuse was [...] that they had failed to pay the Refugee Tax', but 'with the official support of both Hitler and Goering the net was cast much wider, and Rosenberg's Task Force was empowered to take into custody and remove all collections of works of art in France, Belgium and Holland whose owners were absent'. These included the contents of five rooms of 'a bomb-proof cellar full of important works of art and furniture' belonging to Edmond and James de Rothschild discovered by the Paris section of the Kunstschutz and handed to the ERR, together with several other collections seized in Paris during the course of 1941, the Schloss collection, the David Weill collection comprising 130 cases, the Wassermann collection with 75 pictures, the Hamburger collection with 39 paintings, the Solomon Flavian collection with 40 paintings, the Rosenstein collection with twelve paintings, the Sauerbach collection with 30 pictures, the Kronig [as written] collection with 30 pictures, the Rosenfeld collection with three pictures, the Hamperzoumian collection with three pictures [the exact paintings included in all these collections are not specified], the Thierry collection with two oil paintings by Drouais and the Federer collection with one oil painting by Monet.'

Date: 1944 - 1945
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Closure status: Open Document, Open Description

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