Tag Archives: Nazi

1954 Hague Convention Protecting Cultural Property After Massive Nazi Looting of WW2

Under the rule of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi’s looted thousands of items throughout Europe as Germany expanded its empire from 1933-1945. Hitler had long been infatuated by art and before he became the Fuhrer of Germany, he was a young artist unsuccessfully attempting to study at the Academy for Art Studies in Vienna in 1907. Hitler’s love of art did not disappear as he rose to power, stoling nearly 20% of Europe’s art or over 750,000 pieces of artwork during the war. In some of the largest thefts of art history in the world, the Nazi leaders used the inventories of Europe’s elite museums as “shopping lists,” pilfering through priceless pieces of artwork just to add to their personal collections. Hermann Goring, Nazi Leader and art enthusiast, visited the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris 20 times to look at its work and choose what he wanted to take. And because there are were no laws or rules to looting, he seized hundreds of items, needing two additional railroad cars just haul back the new additions to his personal collection. While the Nazi’s were not the first to loot art, they do serve as a great example of how devastating the cultural destruction can be if museums and cultural property are not protected during armed conflict. As a result of the overwhelming Nazi Looting during the second world war, the Hauge Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was signed in 1954, ensuring that a country’s cultural property will not be threatened during wartime.

An American soldier looks in awe of the massive loot of stolen art stored in a church at Elligen, Germany in 1945

As the first international treaty of its kind, the Hauge Convention requires the 127 states that ratified the treaty to adopt protective measures for cultural property during times of war. Cultural property is defined as the expression of cultural heritage of a group or society and can take the form of artwork, monuments, manuscripts, books, etc. The protection of cultural property is important during times of war because as this property reflects the life, history, and identify of the community, its looting/destruction would take a piece of that community away, making the re-building phase after the war an even harder task. The convention requires the establishment of special units within the military to protect the cultural protect when a conflict breaks out and US provided a great example of a successful military protection during the Gulf War. When the US became involved in the Gulf War, they published a “no-fire target list” of places known to have cultural property, in order to protect the involved country’s heritage amidst the fighting. While not all protective measures from the Hauge Convention are successful during war, the treaty is important because it legally shows the need to protect a culture’s heritage from the devastating looting, something the Nazi’s did not care for as they stole thousands of pieces of cultural heritage during the second world war.

Official sign of a protected cultural site, protected by the Hague Convention during times of war



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Nazi Looting of Art

Throughout WII, one of Nazi’s Germany’s campaigns was to loot art from Jews all over Europe. Despite post-war efforts by the allies to recover and return a wide range and quantity of this art, much did not make it back to their original owners or were never relocated. In fact, some private holdings of art by Nazi Germans remained in their possession or were given back to them after the war. Some famous cases have been brought to the forefront of public attention, most notably the five Gustav Klimt paintings and the lawsuit against the Austrian government for their return, as dramatized in the film The Woman in Gold. In this case, the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who was often a subject and patron of his paintings, sued the Austrian government for their return.  The paintings were seized by the Nazis from the Bloch-Bauer family townhouse in Vienna during World War II. The entire family home and collection was raided… the Klimt paintings originally hung in Adele’s private apartment. Her niece, Maria Altmann and the suit lawyer Randol Schoenberg won the case, and Altmann later gifted them to the Neue Gallerie in New York where they remain. 

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907

Another painting by a famous artists had a similar journey from Jewish to Nazi hands, but was never returned. View of a Dutch Square by the Dutch artist Jan van der Heyden– a painter from the Dutch golden age– was part of a personal collection owned by Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus, whose home in Vienna was raided by the Nazi police. Hitler’s private secretary, Henriette von Schirach, requested “nearly 3,000 works” including View of  Dutch Square form the Bavarian government. These were given to her at a heavily discounted price (aprox. $600) and was apparently a common practice. These “return sales” were secret sales that have begun to be uncovered as people search into the provenience of museum holdings and lost art.

View of a Dutch Square, c. 17th Century

Yet again, a famous case involving nazi looted art became a major motion picture. The film Monuments Men tells the story of a volunteer force dubbed Monuments Men, whose mission was to protect churches, museums and cultural artifacts from damage in Allied attacks. Soon they began to focus on recovering artifacts looted by Nazi Germany, and found masterpieces in some impressive hiding spots, including tunnels inside the Altaussee Salt Mine in Austria. In it they found over 6,000 paintings including  masterworks such as Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges and the Ghent Altarpiece. Given the scope of stolen and misplaced art during Nazi’s extensive and vigorous plundering, this effort became the Monuments Men Foundation which continue its efforts today.

Modern efforts continue in attempt to remedy some of the damage caused by Nazi looting of Jewish holdings throughout Europe. The Lost Art Database “registers cultural objects which as a result of persecution under the Nazi dictatorship and the Second World War were relocated, moved or seized, especially from Jewish owners” as part of the German Lost Art Foundation, a government initiative. The work of organizations and conferences to regain the cultural patrimony wrongfully taken by Nazi Germany  remains vital.

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Additional Reading:


https://www.archives.gov/research/holocaust/records-and-research/documenting-nazi-plunder-of-european-art.html (can also search their archives)


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the Unites State’s official memorial to the Holocaust. It is located in Washington, D.C. near the National Mall monuments. The museum was established as part of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust by President Carter, on November 1st, 1978. The commission was chaired by Elie Wiesel, a Jewish author and Holocaust survivor aimed to submit a report “with respect to the establishment and maintenance of an appropriate memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust.

The museum was to be composed of a national museum/memorial, an educational foundation, and a Committee on Conscience. The USHMM was to become an institution with enormous efforts of education and outreach and global involvement. This is evidenced by the first visitor to the museum:  Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Since then, the USHMM has had over 40 million visitors and it’s website is extensive and filled with resources.

It’s outreach and programming efforts continue to be strong thanks to the federal funding it receives as a National Museum. The museum’s permanent exhibition: The Holocaust examines the “chronological narrative” through a variety of media. It includes the Wall of Faces (pictured below) which aims to document victim’s lives through photographs, rather than emphasize their deaths . The  USHMM describes itself as: “A living (their emphasis) memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.” A clear emphasis on other genocidal and cultural conflicts can be seen through its other current exhibitions, namely Cambodia 1975-1979 and Genocide: The Threat Continues. 

All information about the USHMM was acquired from it’s website https://www.ushmm.org/ and in the sections history, about, current exhibitions, and more.

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