In honor of the upcoming release of The Monuments Men, I plan on writing a series of posts highlighting the allies' work to salvage art looted by the Nazis during World War II. I hope to provide biographies of some of the people involved, as well as the program and the history of Nazi looted art.
Why did the Nazis Loot?Looting in times of conflict is not a new phenomena. Throughout history conquering armies would pillage and collect art, some examples include: the Romans looting Greek Art and Napolean's army confiscating art in order to own the greatest pieces of art for their empire (today the Louvre stands as a testament).
Adolf Hitler was no different. He admired art, but he also had views on classes of art, specifically want he deemed degenerate art (Entartete Kunst in German). The Nazi party believed it needed to purge the country of denegerate art, and in 1937 it confiscated this type of art from museums in Germany and created a traveling exhibition to enlighten people on what art they deemed inappropriate (I attached a video from youtube of footage of people visiting the exhibit).
You can find a list of the artists part of the Entartete Kunst at:
Hitler wanted to create a national identity/image of Germany, and that included art. His goal was to amass high art from conquered territories as a part of the Third Reich's identity (think about how the Parthenon Marbles are now a part of British identity)
Allies Response to the looting of Europe
In response to the fall of Paris, the Harvard Group formed in 1940, to provide cultural expertise in times of conflict (monumentsmenfoundation.org), and in 1943, The Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas of the American Council of Learned Societies formed. With the help of these two groups, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Roberts Commission on June 23, 1943 in order to promote the preservation of cultural heritage during the war (monumentsmenfoundation.org).
This is the beginning of the Monuments Men from a historical standpoint. I will write more about the effort in upcoming days, in the meantime I provided a list of useful links and books if you are interested in learning about the looting during World War II.
Links and Books
Books (available at Amazon.com)Rescuing Da Vinci: Hitler and the Nazis Stole Europe's Great Art - America and Her Allies Recovered It$26.38
Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis$20.36
The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War$12.01