Alex Constantine - February 7, 2008
How the Nazis looted Europe
BY GLENN SUMI
THE RAPE OF EUROPA
(Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, Nicole Newnham)
Who knew that a documentary chronicling the Nazis’ theft and destruction of artworks and subsequent attempts to recover and restore that art would make for such gripping viewing?
But this fascinating film, based on Lynn H. Nicholas’s acclaimed book, moves as briskly as an international spy thriller.
Hitler, perhaps embittered by his failure to get into Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts (Schiele and Kokoschka made the cut that year), later purged Europe of what he called degenerate art, plundering Jewish collections in the process.
He inspired his cronies, even the philistine Hermann Göring, to amass art for themselves as they looted Russia, Italy and France to set up a future Führer Museum.
Tellingly, before they invaded a country, the Nazis drew up wish lists of works they hoped to seize.
Among the memorable characters in this epic story are Rose Valland, an unassuming French art historian who courageously kept a written record of the artworks she saw being transported, and Deane Keller, a Yale prof who helped identify, preserve and recover works in bombed-out cities and towns.
The film is bookended by a poignant story about Gustav Klimt’s Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which made headlines two years ago when it sold for an estimated $135 million.
After this film, narrated with controlled urgency by Joan Allen, you won’t look at that masterpiece, or any of the others, in quite the same way again.