I’ll Take the Rembrandt, and Throw in a Few Rubens for Der Führer‎ (Documentary Review: “The Rape of Europa”)

The reason I’m so excited about George Clooney’s upcoming film, Monuments Men (due out in February) is because of the 2006 documentary which set the historical stage for this hotly anticipated release, a fascinating film called The Rape of Europa, detailing the story of – quite simply – the largest art theft in the history of the world.  To say I was glued to my seat is an understatement; I was transfixed.  Yes, I’d had some vague recollection of the Nazi theft of art masterpieces during WWII  (I thought from mainly Jewish families and private galleries) , but the true extent of the wholesale looting from public and private collections as well as religious sites and museums, which went on for 12 years through seven countries in Europe, absolutely shocked me.  One of the co-producers of the documentary was Robert Edsel, who wrote Monuments Men (on which the new Clooney movie is based), Rescuing DaVinci, and the recently published, Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis.  In fact, Edsel has made it his life’s work to restore still missing stolen artwork to their rightful owners, wherever they may be.

So I am emphatically recommending that you watch this magnificently researched documentary, elegantly narrated by Joan Allen, so that when Clooney’s film comes out, you’ll appreciate it all the more for shedding new light on an epic saga ripped from the headlines of our not-too-distant past.

SnapShot Plot

Even before the outbreak of World War II, Hitler’s Third Reich had been making lists of a multitude of treasures across Europe intended for the famed Fuher museum planned for his hometown of Linz, Austria.  Except those pieces of Modern and Expressionist art created mostly by Jewish artists, which he coined ‘Degenerate’ and removed for anti-Jewish propaganda plans.  As the war dragged on, not only was Hitler “collecting” through his emissaries but the lion’s share of looting was being done by Hermann Göring , the highest ranking General Officer in the World War II German military.  By the end of the war, Göring had amassed over 2,000 individual pieces of art which he stuffed in the country home he kept expanding to make room for more stolen treasures.

After the United States entered the war, it was determined that something had to be done to protect Europe’s art and its historic monuments from the collateral damage waged by modern warfare but also from the unprecedented thievery taking place at the hands of the Nazis.  Amazingly, a large number of art historians, museum directors, artists and professors from 12 countries (most from the U.S., though) volunteered to become, in essence, scholar-soldiers dedicated to rescuing and returning approximately 5 million stolen works of art.  They were affectionately called the Monuments Men. What these men and women were able to accomplish during WWII was nothing short of heroic. As Robert Edsel put it, “It’s a huge change in the history of warfare to try and fight a war on the one hand and mitigate damage to cultural treasures at the same time.”


Parting Shot

Written, produced and directed by Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham over a period of six years, from the impressive book ten years in the making by Lynn Nicholas, The Rape of Europa will remain one of the greatest cinematic captures of one of the darkest periods in modern history.  To misquote Dickens, it was the best of people; it was the worst of people .

Can you imagine the world without our masterpieces?  I cannot and thanks to the heroism of countless individuals, both in uniform and out, at grave personal peril, I don’t have to.  And for this I am eternally grateful.

Click on Poster to purchase DVD. If you can’t see the Poster, disabling your Ad Blocking software should fix the problem!


Featured Image Courtesy of:  http://superette.blogspot.com/2008_11_01_archive.html

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0iL7k_R0LM

If you’re interested, an enlightening article on Goring’s stolen art can be found at:  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/goerings-lost-art-1522536.html



  • MaxxMurxx says:

    Unfortunately it is another anti German hate movie and 100% propaganda fabrication. The French academy of science was so friendly to publish the origonal monthly secret reportts of the German Military Administration of Occupied France rto the Army High Command in Berlin into the internet. Each report has an own section: “Art Protection”. The German division of art protection not only rescued precious artworks from allied air raids but also organized rebuilding of damaged historical monuments. The Nazis had released laws that artworks together with the people together form a civilisation and its heritage and under no circumstances must be damaged, destroyed or removed. One of the last reports reports a request of the German Army command in Italy for a documentation of the achievements of the German division of art protection, because the US Army had mounted signs: “Destroyed by Germans” on all historical buildings destroyed by the Allieds


    • Norma says:

      Apologies for not posting your Comment earlier; I just became aware of it. I don’t profess to be an historian, and can only make my judgments based on the best and most accurately researched materials available. I suggest you check out Richard Edsel’s books, Rescuing DaVinci, The Monuments Men, and Saving Italy as he offers exhaustive footnotes and facts in his writing. He confirms that there were indeed factions of the German military which were dedicated to the preservation of art during WWII but more than this, I can only go on what the books and documentary historians have illustrated. I really appreciate, however, your participation and contribution to the conversation. Thank you.

  • Claudie Hayat says:

    As always, very interesting ! Great job. Just sent your review to “my” French club.
    I am ready to watch George ….in the near future.

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