Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Matinee: The Rape of Europa (2006)

Whenever I'm feeling a little uninspired, it is fun to watch something about WWII.  You know, gasp in horror and gnash your teeth at all the horrible things that Hitler did.  Most people are well-aware of the experiments, the concentration camps, the racism and crimes against humanity.  But I was particularly interested in pursuing a topic not often discussed...his theft of thousands of Europe's greatest pieces of art.  Dude did love his art, which is so contradictory to his otherwise hateful nature.  He even fancied himself an artist, but he wasn't very good.


For twelve years Hitler and his minions (particularly Goering) sacheted through museums and private homes, taking what they pleased and destroying what wasn't up to their standard.  Like it was their God-given right.  The Soviets got in on some of the action too, but this was mostly a German affair.
  
In this documentary, we travel through seven European countries that suffered from such pillaging, with specifics provided to illustrate the level of greed and despicability.  For example, this 1907 painting by Gustav Klimt entitled "Gold Portrait", was confiscated by the Nazi's from the subject's husband when he escaped to Switzerland.  It took years in the courts for the family to get the painting back in their possession, and in 2006 sold on the open market for $135 million.  Some have called it the "other Mona Lisa".




This painting, painted in 1513 by Italian High Renaissance Old Master Rafael and entitled "Portrait of a Young Man", was brought to Poland by a prince in the late 1700's (along with DaVinci's "Lady With an Ermine", seen below).  When the Nazi's invaded Poland in 1939, they took both items and eventually they ended up in Hitler's private collection.  The DaVinci painting was eventually returned to Poland, but the Rafael, and 843 other artifacts, were never found.  Most likely these items will resurface once those hiding the treasures die and their kids want to cash in, or older buildings are renovated and the paintings are found in a secret chamber.


  
Thanks to some brave souls whose passions are firmly on the side of the arts began to fight back almost immediately.  They dedicated their lives to hunting down and returning these paintings to their rightful owners.  But there was SO MUCH taken.  Over 100,000 items by some counts.  43% of all Polish cultural heritage was snatched away during the war.


Then there is Rose Valland, a mousy woman hired by the Nazis to do clerical work.  Secretly, she cataloged every piece of artwork the Nazis stole, which greatly aided in the recovery. 


Still, some are still fighting to retrieve their rightful heritage to this day through the courts.  I was more than a little annoyed when a German historian angrily protested the return of the stolen artifacts, saying that the Germans lost so many people in the war, and so they shouldn't have to do the honorable thing.  Really?  And nobody else did?  


For anyone who enjoys learning about WWII or art history, you will find this documentary fascinating.  For more information, there is also a book written by Lynn Nicholas of the same title.  


    

11 comments:

bermudaonion said...

That sounds like an excellent movie. I have a book around here somewhere about the men who recovered many of the artwork Hitler stole.

Zibilee said...

I can't believe that some of the Germans felt like they shouldn't have to give back the artwork! What asses! I think this movie sounds fascinating, and like something that would not only engage me, but make really mad! Another one for the queue!

Literary Feline said...

I read a couple of fiction books (thrillers) dealing with art theft connected to the Nazi's a few years ago. Not specifically tied to Hitler, but it was interesting nonetheless. This sounds like quite an interesting film--one I'll have to see if I can rent. You know how WWII interests me too!

annieb said...

I just watched this on Netflix streaming and thanks for the heads up--it was great! Such a fascinating subject and one that doesn't get a lot of the coverage for WWII.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I'm all over this...both book and documentary! I read about some of Hitler's background and interest in the arts when my class was reading The Book Thief. A larger class will be working on the same project this Fall after our research on the presidential election is complete. When will learning the history of this evil man stop making me so angry??? Hopefully never.

Marie said...

this sounds really interesting to me. i'm going to look for it on netflix!

Kathleen said...

I would be very interested to see this one. I knew the Nazis pilfered art but had no idea it was so widespread.

Tasha B. said...

I've been wanting to see this. I think it aired on Ovation once, but I missed it, so I've been hoping they'll re-air it at some point.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

This one looks fascinating! I'm adding it to the Netflix list.

Julie P. said...

I think my dad read a fictional account of the art thievery! This movie sounds fascinating.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I think this is a book as well. I love this topic of art thefts and art restoration/conservation. Last year I even entered a challenge just so that I would force myself to read more about it.

If you want to know more, I'd definitely recommend Edsel's "The Monuments Men" - it's a fascinating read.