Ian Berke, realtor and real estate in San Francisco
Ian's Listings
SF listings
About SF
About Ian
Ian's List
Film Reviews
Stone Books
Legal & Privacy

tel 415.921.7300
cell 415.860.2777

DRE #444020


Film Review

The Rape of Europa

(May 30, 2007) We are all familiar with the horrific images of WW II, and the devastation of many major European cities. But perhaps less familiar with the wholesale looting and theft of art objects by the Nazis, and later, the Russians, during the war. The restitution of "Holocaust art" has been much in the news lately, as museums re-examine the 1933-1945 gap in the provenance of some of their paintings and other art objects. After years of fighting legal battles to retain five major Klimts, the Austrian State Museum recently returned them to the granddaughter of the collector who owned them before they were confiscated by the Nazis.

In 1994, Lynn Nichols published the Rape of Europa, which documented this looting by the Nazis, first from Jews, then from the countries the Nazis invaded, and the efforts of a small group in the US Army to rescue these treasures as the war was ending. Now a group of four Stanford film graduates has just finished 5 years of work on a riveting documentary based on the book, with amazing footage, little of which has ever been seen by the public. Hitler was a frustrated painter and always maintained an interest in art. His tastes were very conservative, and other Nazis leaders copied him and began to collect art. Most notorious was Herman Goering, the head of the Nazis air force. We see footage of Goering in Paris in 1937, in the Louvre, admiring paintings. But Hitler's art had to be traditional, and he ordered German museums stripped of "degenerate" art, such as impressionists, cubists, modernists, and of course any works by Jewish artists. Thousands of these paintings were sold very cheaply in auctions held by the German government, and many found their way overseas. As Jews in Germany, and later, Austria, were either arrested or forced to immigrate, their property and collections were seized by the government, with the better paintings going into the collections of high ranking Nazis. After his one visit to Paris following the occupation of France, Hitler become obsessed with building a major art museum in his hometown of Linz. He began gathering paintings, sculpture, and other objects in huge quantities. Even during the last few weeks in his bunker, he continued to plan this museum. All of this is illustrated by archival footage.

Prior to Nichol's book, few were aware of how well planned and systematic the Nazi plan was to loot museums and private collections. Trucks, rail cars, thousands of soldiers, all desperately needed for the front, were diverted to the looting effort. And loot they did, hundreds of thousand of objects. The statistics shown in the film are simply staggering. Much was found after the war, but much still remains missing or possibly destroyed. You will not forget a very moving computer generated scene in the film that shows these paintings receding into space and disappearing.

When it was clear that there would be a war, the major European museums began to plan for the evacuation of their museums and the safeguarding of their collections. The war began, and museums immediately started to move their art. There is sad footage of the Louvre being packed out, including the famous Nike of Samothrace being slide down a ramp into a huge crate. And shots of the empty galleries, often with just a monumental frame left behind. The same thing was happening at the Hermitage in St Petersburg as the German army had the city under siege. The accounts of the curators and other workers are very moving. Many died in the basement of the Hermitage from cold and starvation. In Paris, a young woman who had worked in the Louvre was requisitioned to work in a storage facility, used as a collecting point for the art the Nazis were looting. Concealing that she spoke German, she kept a meticulous secret record of all the art that passed through the facility and its origin and destination. She literally risked her life as knowledge of this was considered highly secret by the Nazis. This record was to be immensely useful after the war.

A major section of the film deals with the "monuments men" and their heroic efforts to rescue art and prevent further destruction. Eventually Eisenhower gave orders that art and architecture must be preserved if possible, and that the destruction of important buildings should only be if absolutely necessary during battle. There is a prolonged discussion and footage of the destruction of Monte Cassino Abbey by Allied bombers, and the aftermath. A destruction that proved futile in the battle. And the destruction of the great frescos in the Campo Santo in Pisa.

In an era of good documentaries, this is a great and important film. There is so much here, in this masterful and powerful look at terrible events that are still unresolved for many. The Rape of Europa is currently playing on one of the big screens at Opera Plaza. And worth seeing there because so much of the footage and photos have important and amazing detail.

Return to the List of Film Reviews


Home | Ian's Listings | SF listings | Rentals | Architecture | About SF | About Ian |
Ian's List | Legal & Privacy | ian@ianberke.com | © 2009- ianberke.com