Looted art  

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Looted art has been a consequence of looting during war, natural disaster and riot for centuries. Looting of art, archaeology and other cultural property may be an opportunistic criminal act, or may be a more organized case of unlawful or unethical pillage by the victor of a conflict.

"Looted art" is a term often reduced to refer to artwork plundered by the Nazis during World War II in Europe. However, the Nazis were neither the first nor the last to loot art on a large scale. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is on record with the following quote:

"The plunder and looting of art and other treasures was not limited to the Third Reich. ... The Soviet and American armies also participated, the former more thoroughly and systematically, the latter at the level of individuals stealing for personal gain."

The Herald-Times even claims: "Napoleon was a model for Hitler in terms of art looting." Bloomberg Radio also makes it clear, that many of the worlds greatest artworks were taken from their rightful owners.

Plunder, booty, appropriation and spoliation are related terms that have been used for several hundred years to describe the process of looting. Many references still associate the term looted art with the World War II period, recent legal frameworks and treaties use the term spoliation in connection with the "large number of cultural objects and works of art looted by the Nazis and others during the Second World War and the Holocaust Era from 1933-1945". The term "Trophy art" is used for the cultural objects, which were taken by the Red Army and the Soviet Trophy Brigades from occupied Germany to the Soviet Union after World War II. It is a translation from the Russian "Трофейное искусство".

Related terms include art theft (the stealing of valuable artifacts, mostly because of commercial reasons), illicit antiquities (covertly traded antiquities or artifacts of archaeological interest, found in illegal or unregulated excavations), provenance (the origin or source of a piece of art), and art repatriation (the process of returning artworks and antiques to their rightful owners).

German Nazi looting organizations

While the Nazis were in power, they plundered cultural property from every territory they occupied. This was conducted in a systematic manner with organizations specifically created to determine which public and private collections were most valuable to the Nazi Regime. Some of the objects were earmarked for Hitler's never realized Führermuseum, some objects went to other high-ranking officials such as Hermann Göring, while other objects were traded to fund Nazi activities.

In 1940, an organization known as the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die Besetzten Gebiete (The Reichsleiter Rosenberg Institute for the Occupied Territories), or ERR, was formed, headed for Alfred Rosenberg by Gerhard Utikal. The first operating unit, the western branch for France, Belgium and the Netherlands, called the Dienststelle Westen (Western Agency), was located in Paris. The chief of this Dienststelle was Kurt von Behr. Its original purpose was to collect Jewish and Freemasonic books and documents, either for destruction, or for removal to Germany for further "study". However, late in 1940, Hermann Göring, who in fact controlled the ERR, issued an order that effectively changed the mission of the ERR, mandating it to seize "Jewish" art collections and other objects. The war loot had to be collected in a central place in Paris, the Museum Jeu de Paume. At this collection point worked art historians and other personnel who inventoried the loot before sending it to Germany. Göring also commanded that the loot would first be divided between Hitler and himself. Hitler later ordered that all confiscated works of art were to be made directly available to him. From the end of 1940 to the end of 1942 Göring traveled twenty times to Paris. In the Museum Jeu de Paume, art dealer Bruno Lohse staged 20 expositions of the newly looted art objects, especially for Göring, from which Göring selected at least 594 pieces for his own collection. Göring made Lohse his liaison-officer and installed him in the ERR in March 1941 as the deputy leader of this unit. Items which Hitler and Göring did not want were made available to other Nazi leaders. Under Rosenberg and Göring's leadership, the ERR seized 21,903 art objects from German-occupied countries.

Other Nazi looting organizations included the Sonderauftrag Linz, the organization run by the art historian Hans Posse, which was particularly in charge of assembling the works for the Führermuseum, the Dienststelle Mühlmann, operated by Kajetan Mühlmann, which Göring also controlledTemplate:Citation needed and operated primarily in the Netherlands, Belgium, and a Sonderkommando Kuensberg connected to the minister of foreign affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop, which operated first in France, then in Russia and North Africa. In Western Europe, with the advancing German troops, were elements of the 'von Ribbentrop Battalion', named after Joachim von Ribbentrop. These men were responsible for entering private and institutional libraries in the occupied countries and removing any materials of interest to the Germans, especially items of scientific, technical or other informational value.

Art collections from prominent Jewish families, including the Rothschilds, the Rosenbergs, the Wildensteins and the Schloss Family were the targets of confiscations because of their significant value. Also Jewish art dealers sold art to German organizations - often under duress, e.g. the art dealerships of Jacques Goudstikker, Benjamin and Nathan Katz and Kurt Walter Bachstitz. Also non-Jewish art dealers sold art to the Germans, e.g. the art dealers De Boer and Hoogendijk in the Netherlands.

By the end of the war, the Third Reich amassed hundreds of thousands of cultural objects.

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