THE RAPE OF EUROPA by Lynn H. Nicholas


The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War
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 A sprawling, vivid look at the fate of Europe's artworks during WW II. ``Never,'' states Nicholas in her admirably accomplished first book, ``had works of art been so important to a political movement and never had they been moved about on such a vast scale....'' Charting this unprecedented movement, Nicholas begins with the Nazis' twofold ``purification'' effort to ban ``degenerate'' culture and to scour public and private collections of enemy lands and races for nobly Germanic art. Backed always by astonishing statistics, the author recounts not only the brutal pursuit of both goals in western continental Europe and the even harsher, racially motivated pillage of Russian and Polish art treasures, but also the baffling exceptions to rules: the modernist ``garbage'' (Goebbels) imported into Germany and auctioned for hard foreign currency; the Jewish experts in Nordic art made ``Honorary Aryans''; the hands of Jewish women kissed by Goering in his quest for favorite canvases. As a former researcher at Washington's National Gallery who made a childhood visit through the devastated Germany of 1948, Nicholas is well equipped to elucidate the technicalities and vivify the chaos of wartime Europe's emergency storage sites, their improvised safety and climate controls, the economics and legalities of the art trade and postwar reclamations, and America's interests during and after the war in custodianship, reparation politics, and efforts to protect its own collections. Nonetheless, Nicholas does not, so to speak, lose the big picture, duly prefacing each country-by-country account with background history of the war. One interesting Cold War issue she considers is the politically sensitive return to newly Communist countries of plundered religious relics. The book abounds in poignant and bizarre details, from masterpieces traded for everything from human lives to ``8 kilograms of millet,'' to Chinese bronzes found holding manure in East German pigsties. Nicholas restores harrowing political contexts to ``safe,'' pristinely displayed museum masterpieces. (87 b&w illustrations and 3 maps)

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-40069-9
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1994


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