This is my entry for “R” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. This is the first”R” documentary I’ve reviewed.
Title: The Rape of Europa
Release Date: 12 November 2006
Director: Richard Berge and Bonni Cohen
Production Company: Actual Films
This film documents the many threats to Europe’s art, architecture, and cultural treasures during World War II. Adolf Hitler, a failed artist himself, sought to acquire art treasures to satiate his ego and prop up the Reich. He even had elaborate plans to remake his hometown of Linz, Austria into a cultural center that he worked on right up to his last days in the bunker under Berlin. Well before invading other nations, the Nazis put together lists of art works to target and bring to Germany. The Nazis plundered museums and private collections, primarily of Jewish families, in every country they invaded. Hermann Göring is a major figure in the Nazi art program, presented here as having a more sophisticated taste in art than Hitler, and also setting aside prime pieces for his own collection.
But the Nazis didn’t just steal art. They also deliberately sought out and destroyed art. Before the war, Hitler declared certain works and artists as “degenerate art” – primarily the work of Jewish artists, but he a general distaste for Modern Art. The degenerate art was put on display in a mocking exhibition before being sold off at bargain prices, while much more art was destroyed. When invading other countries, particularly Poland and Russia, the Nazis deliberately targeted the art and architecture of those countries in an attempt to erase their cultural heritage.
The movie also focuses on the efforts to preserve and protect art during the war. Specifically, the Louvre and the Hermitage each had programs involving dedicated staff and volunteers evacuating artworks and otherwise working to protect them from theft or damage. The Allied armies were very cognizant of Europe’s cultural heritage and attempted to avoid destroying significant artistic and historical sites. The results were not always good as in the case of the historic monastery of Monte Cassino that they bombed in an attempt to dislodge troops on the mountain, or the destruction of the historic frescoes in Pisa’s Camposanto Monumentale. Other efforts were more successful, such as a plan for a bombing run on a very narrow target of a railroad depot in central Florence. During and after the war, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program – aka the Monuments Men – worked to find, restore, and repatriate art stolen during the war.
More than 70 years after the war, art stolen by the Nazis is still being recovered and controversies continue about art in museums and private collections being returned to their heirs.
What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:
I think most of what this movie covered I was at best vaguely aware of which is why I ended up writing such a long summary. It’s pretty alarming that art wasn’t a secondary concern during the war but something that involved extensive efforts and planning, whether it be to steal or destroy in the Nazis case, or to protect and repatriate on the Allied side.
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Source: I watched this documentary on Amazon Prime Video.