The Art of War

Harper's Bazaar 3 October 2013
By Hannah Rothschild

Between 1945 and 1951 the Allied Monuments Men and Women, a group of about 345 historians and curators, managed to identify and return more than five million cultural objects stolen by the Nazis. But the story of Nazi plunder is far from over with many thousands of Nazi-looted art still in circulation. Sixty years on, contemporary versions of the Monuments Men and Women are still working to right the wrongs of history and track down the treasured heirlooms.

In this article, Hannah Rothschild tells of the current efforts to trace and recover the looted works of art and meets a number of families involved in the search. She includes the story of her own family, writing that the Nazis used them as the model for the apotheosis of evil Judaism, noting that their enmity did not stretch to the family's goods and chattels, confiscating more than 5,000 works just from the French branch of the family as well as millions of books, manuscripts, Judaica and other precious objects. 

She reveals the unwillingness of many museums to return looted artworks, and quotes George Clooney, who wrote and stars in a forthcoming film, who is emphatic that "This is really simple. The paintings were legitimately bought and paid for - they should be returned."

She writes that 'The destruction and pillaging of culture and cultural artefacts has been a hallmark of conflicts since wars began. What set Hitler's apart was not just the scale, but also his determination to expunge and erase the lives and identities of Jews and other 'undesirables'. This is why it is so important that our generation doesn't, either by default, ambivalence, self-interest or inertia, enable Hitler to complete his goal. We must help families recover their memories and possessions. It is not simply about ownership or value; it's about identity and, ultimately, love.'

The article is available as a pdf. To read it, click here.
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