THE SPOILS OF WORLD WAR II: The American Military's Role in Stealing Europe's Treasures by Kenneth D. Alford

THE SPOILS OF WORLD WAR II: The American Military's Role in Stealing Europe's Treasures

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Alford's fascinating unraveling of an Army cover-up reveals many American WW II soldiers to be not the great liberators, but the great looters of Europe. At the end of WW II, more than one fifth of the world's great artworks were left under the protection of American soldiers in Germany and Austria. Treasures moved from museums and private homes, either stolen by or hidden from the Nazis, were amassed in warehouses, monasteries, and castles to be safeguarded, then returned to their rightful owners. After a decade-plus of research, (and despite mysteriously missing documents and Army noncooperation), Alford found that, with the enemy defeated, some American soldiers behaved like ravenous children in an untended sweet shop, taking advantage of postwar mayhem to profit. Not content to go home with mere honor, many stole Old Master paintings, ancient coins, china, jewelry, furs, antique pistols, even concentration camp victims' ashes and wedding rings. AIford's prose is textbook-dry, but the lootings at the book's heart are pure action thriller. Captain Norman T. Byrne, appointed to protect works of art in a defeated, bombed-out Berlin, instead presided over the dispersal of valuables from a Darer etched plate to a stamp collection. With secret Swiss sales, buried booty, and polygraph interrogations, the Hesse crown jewel theft involving a WAC captain and her colonel lover reads more like LeCarrÉ than history. Even when alerted to wrongdoing, Army higher-ups did little to stop the thieving -- either to avoid embarrassment or to cover their own misdeeds. Despite the efforts of Alford, who is now advising German and Russian authorities on recovering looted treasures, the whereabouts of many treasures remains a mystery. While victory and spoils historically go hand in hand, our perception of American Army heroes bringing goodwill and safety in the Nazis' wake is altered by this testament to the dishonesty and greed of a few no-good men.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Birch Lane/Carol