Hitler loved art and it was one of his goals to return many of the masters to Germany and to set up one of the best museums in the world. In order to do that he pillaged and plundered Europe. This book covers Paris and its stolen art and is based on an article written in France. I knew about the Nazi’s agenda to steal art, but I didn’t realize how systematic it was. Hitler and Goering were determined to find and send to Germany as much art as possible, most of which was taken from wealthy Parisian Jews. As in other areas during WWII, there was a lot of collaboration from the Paris art dealers. In fact the Paris art world was booming during this period. Art was going for outrageous prices (both high and low) and dealers were becoming really wealthy. None of the activities during the war really surprised me. What surprised me most was what happened after the war when the owners tried to get their possessions back. Barely half of the art stolen by the Nazis has been found and returned. There was a great deal of effort immediately after the war, but there was also a lot of stonewalling and dead ends. If the art ended up in Eastern Europe, it became the spoils of war or reparations for the Soviet Union. Most of that art has never been seen. If it ended up in Switzerland, a supposed neutral country, there was no recourse to get it back. Swiss law was such that it was almost impossible to claim stolen goods there even if you knew where they were. I think what really surprised me was the French museums and the auction houses. There are some 2000 pieces in French museums that are Nazi contraband and have never been claimed; however, the museums have made almost no effort to find the owners. The auctions houses are even worse. Places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have sold stolen art repeatedly with little or no investigation into their provenances.
Of course all this information is from The Lost Museum. While I found the information really interesting, the book was not. It was not well written or easily readable. Part of this may be the translation, but that does not explain how boring it was in parts. I found myself skimming probably half of the book just to get through it. There are paragraphs long lists of paintings. The author also gives biographies of the Jews whose art was stolen, but spends very little time on the actual story of the theft. Instead of a laundry list of paintings, I would have preferred more on the actual story about the journey the art took and what happened to it after the war. There is some of this but not enough.