The Spoils of War

Recovering Looted Artworks from the Second World War

Between 1933 and 1945, more than 600 000 artworks had been torn from their owners. The greatest masters of classical and modern painting were victims of this cultural purge.

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Synopsis

During the Second World War, the Nazis accumulated an impressive treasure: millions of objects, a few hundred thousand works of art. This looting, the largest in the history of mankind, targeted Jewish merchants and collectors, but also all the works that the Nazis wished to acquire for their own personal collections.   The exhibition is historic and exclusive, it highlights a selection of works looted by the Nazis: –     the history of each work, from its spoliation to its possible restitution –     An architecture that echoes iconic Holocaust sites –     A 3D reconstruction of the Cabinet of Martyrs, the room dedicated to « degenerate » works   An exhibition curated by Marc Mazurovsky and Ori Soltes, directors of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project.


Presentation

Two features in particular stand out as one examines even a small sample of the cultural property that was plundered during World War II, primarily by the Nazis. The first is how efficient and effective the Nazi plunder mechanisms were; Alfred Rosenberg’s ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg) was but one thread of the extraordinary web of cooperation and collaboration received from obvious Nazi spies or sympathizers but also from dealers and museum professionals.   The second is how varied are the subplots within the narrative of plunder and its aftermath. What was taken? and how, when, where? What was the fate, short-term and long-term of given objects? taken and retaken, taken and eventually restituted, taken and disappeared, never (up to this time, at least) seen again, taken but with no known surviving owners or heirs to assert a claim, taken from obscure individuals or taken from well-known collections of well-known individuals or institutions—or in the case of ceremonial objects, from synagogues and Jewish communities that were successfully destroyed by the Nazis…   Due in part to the trauma occasioned by war, and its attendant persecutions, cruelties and hardships, most Holocaust survivors, in the years that immediately followed the cessation of the war, did not focus on the recovery of their plundered property. They did not want to relive the most horrific years of their families’ lives.  They wanted to move on, to find new lives.  It was only after enough time had elapsed that some began to think and wonder what happened to those paintings that were on grandfather’s wall. Adapted from the curators’ words.