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Rescued Art – Contemporaries about the Monuments Men

Monuments Men mit Dürer ZeichnungenThe most of what we know today about the Monuments Men comes from their own biographies as well as from the source material from the American archives. Although they were certainly very present in the German museums during the occupation, they were not worth mentioning.for the contemporary German press. When the press was still under the supervision of the Allies, an article about the art protectors was released in the Allgemeine Zeitung on August 8, 1945, 3 months after the end of the war, that described amazingly clear the reasons of their work. Interestingly, although an American author may have written it, the article is almost free of the pathos with which the work of the monument will be later glorified as heroic task. The author describes the outsourcing of the art treasures in more than 800 depots such as mines, bunkers, secluded mansions, etc. – it will turn out at the end of the occupation that it have been much more. He further describes the different approach of the Germans in their art raids: While in the eastern conquest areas only a few works of art, such as Veit Stoss Altar of Cracow, were recognized as such and the rest fell prey to destruction, the works of art in France or Netherlands were highly appreciated. However, one statement of the article I can not agree:

“The Wehrmacht had neither enough time nor transport facilities to entrain the recovered art treasures during their retreat from Western Europe. This explains why the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and Nike can today be again admired by art lovers in the Louvre “

Firstly, the Wehrmacht was not the institution that took care of the art objects. What is meant here is rather the institution of “art protection” (Kunstschutz), which increasingly lost its influence over the other art looting institutions, such as the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg or Hitler’s and Goering’s art-buyers. In addition, the state art collections in the western occupied countries initially weren’r touched. Instead the Nazi art “buyers” acquired the ‘ownerless’ collections of Jewish citizens. Thus the Monuments Men had to deal with the major collections such as the family Rothschild or David Weill after the war . All of these works of art that are swapped out of the German collections as well as the looted ones from Germany and the occupied territories, the art protection officers assembled in Central Collecting Points in Wiesbaden, Munich, Marburg and Offenbach where they made ​​efforts to redistribute them to their rightful owners. Especially the artworks in legal German ownership were debatable to use as reparations – or as a substitute for individual lost artworks by the war opponents, as so-called restitution-in-kind. This method, however, never came to action.

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