America and the Return of Nazi Contraband: The Recovery of Europe's Cultural Treasures.
America and the Return of Nazi Contraband: The Recovery of Europe's Cultural Treasures. By Michael J. Kurtz. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Cambridge University Press Cambridge University Press (known colloquially as CUP) is a publisher given a Royal Charter by Henry VIII in 1534, and one of the two privileged presses (the other being Oxford University Press). , 2006. x + 278 pp.
Plundering the spoils of war has a long history, while principles regarding the wartime protection and postwar restitution of such artifacts are a more modern phenomenon. As Michael J. Kurtz painstakingly demonstrates, the impact on cultural heritage engendered by World War II exceeded all previous experiences of looting and restitution. Driven by racist ideology, the Nazi regime widely appropriated the property of its perceived enemies, and the "outbreak of war in 1939 dramatically expanded the arena for Nazi plundering" (19). Kurtz identifies four major individuals or organizations, as well as numerous lower-level operatives, leading the charge for control over European cultural heritage: (1) the Sonderauftrag Linz (the Linz special project), aimed at "transforming the Fuhrer's boyhood home into the cultural mecca of Europe," with Vienna's Rothschild art collection as its core collection (20); (2) Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring, who, by war's end, "had eight residences packed with art, practically none of it German," acquired through confiscation confiscation
In law, the act of seizing property without compensation and submitting it to the public treasury. Illegal items such as narcotics or firearms, or profits from the sale of illegal items, may be confiscated by the police. Additionally, government action (e.g. and forced sales (21); (3) the SS under Heinrich Himmler, especially its Ahnenerbe ("legacy of ancestors"), a research body responsible for validating Nazi racial beliefs, and the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheit-shauptamt or RSHA RSHA Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office, WWII) ), "the single greatest looter of archives and libraries from Jews, Freemasons This is a list of notable Freemasons. Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation which exists in a number of forms worldwide. Throughout history some members of the fraternity have made no secret of their involvement, while others have not made their membership public. , and other enemies of the regime" (22); and (4) Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg's Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), which was particularly active in seizing "ownerless" Jewish property in occupied France.
One irony of all this looting was the resultant preservation of Jewish cultural artifacts. But despite much early discussion among the Allied powers Allied Powers
Nations allied in opposition to the Central Powers in World War I or to the Axis Powers in World War II. The original Allies in World War I—the British Empire, France, and the Russian Empire—were later joined by many , little concrete plans for restitution following the cessation of hostilities emerged within political circles, though some efforts at preservation during the war were made, spurred on by arts organizations. This led to the creation in the United States of the Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe, led by Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts, which urged the War Department's Civil Affairs Division to establish a Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) branch in the fall of 1943. Kurtz concludes the first part of this book with an account of how American restitution policies were shaped by geopolitical ge·o·pol·i·tics
n. (used with a sing. verb)
1. The study of the relationship among politics and geography, demography, and economics, especially with respect to the foreign policy of a nation.
a. clashes between the Great Powers during the last two years of the war, largely hindering the development of a coherent approach to restitution. Nonetheless, MFA&A officers followed closely upon D-Day operations to begin their work, quickly locating several remarkable stashes of looted objects, including some world masterpieces, and soon recognizing the enormous challenges of restitution in the war's final phases.
Part two of the book documents the early efforts at postwar restitution, greatly hampered by the lack of a "clear policy on how to govern the vanquished enemy" (81). The dispersion and sheer number of cultural objects presented additional challenges: About 15 million artifacts had been hidden in repositories, many of them salt mines, 25 percent of which were deemed "eligible for restitution" (88). Eventually, some clear patterns emerged, with the Americans taking the lead among the three Western powers in managing "factories"--central collection facilities--from which "clearly identifiable German property" was rapidly inventoried, catalogued, and returned "to the institutions or individuals who had title to the property." Meanwhile the Soviets pursued a policy of wholesale removal of cultural property to replenish Soviet institutions, with no attention paid to provenance (104). But many issues were never resolved by agreement of the four postwar powers, effectively resulting in four restitution programs.
Part three of the book addresses specifically American leadership in postwar restitution, the bulk of which occurred from spring 1945 through September 1949. The efforts were led by the understaffed MFA&A branch, and drew to a close when the "international climate made it clear that the end was in sight for military government" (143). Kurtz devotes a chapter here to "the disposition of Jewish property," much of it heirless, noting that the "aftereffects of the Jewish agony created political, diplomatic, and administrative difficulties that have yet to be completely resolved" (151). A key principle regarding heirless Jewish property was the notion of communal trusteeship: that property would not revert to local governments, often perpetrators of crimes against Jews, but "to the Jewish people as a whole, who must be recognized as the surviving inheritors" (154). As a result, the military government recognized the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO JRSO Junior Road Safety Officers (Scotland) ) and Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc. (JCR JCR Journal Citation Reports
JCR Java Content Repository (IBM)
JCR Junior Common Room (British university term)
JCR Journal of Clinical Rheumatology
JCR Journal of Circadian Rhythms ), the JRSO's cultural agent (with Salo Baron as president and Joshua Starr followed by Hannah Arendt as executive secretaries), as trustee bodies for heirless Jewish property under American control. This contributed a great deal to the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage looted during the war but also transferred the bulk of it to Israel and the U.S., centers for postwar Jewish life, leading to some disputes with surviving German Jewish communities. Sadly, the fact remains that "only a fragment of the Jewish heritage had survived. Much of it disappeared, as had European Jewry itself, and reconstruction could only be partial at best" (173).
Part four of the book covers the cold war period, when "suspicion and mistrust often characterized the politics of restitution" (177), and beyond. With Russia, for example, disputes concerned "tardy tar·dy
adj. tar·di·er, tar·di·est
1. Occurring, arriving, acting, or done after the scheduled, expected, or usual time; late.
2. Moving slowly; sluggish. Soviet cooperation with the American restitution effort, Soviet removal of cultural items from its zone of occupation, and restitution to the Baltic states and Polish territory, formerly independent, but now occupied by the Soviet Union" (177). Kurtz also addresses the ongoing problem of looted art turning up in the United States, reaching a "veritable deluge" in the 1990s following the fall of communism, as well as sensational cases such as the story of "Nazi gold" handled by Swiss banks, which was the impetus "toward building an international consensus to resolve long-standing restitution grievances" (216). The book concludes, therefore, with recommendations concerning the "continuing imperative" of cultural restitution, by which the legacy of World War II looting might come to provisional closure.
Oren Baruch Stier
Florida International University Florida International University, primarily at University Park, Miami; coeducational; chartered 1965, opened 1972. A research university, it has 18 colleges and schools and many specialized centers and institutes, including those in biomedical engineering, database