World War II was unique in so far as war can have different degrees of intensity, scope, or perhaps evil. The Germany of the Nazis was one with an insatiable appetite, whether for killing, inventing crimes so heinous new words were needed, or the absolute fervor with which they wanted everything. They literally wanted everything, whether changed to suit them, or in the case this book discusses, they wanted art, all of it. Their actions went well beyond the spoils of War that a victor generally has taken as his own, either from greed or an imagined sense of recompense for the battles fought. They wanted to change the demographics of the planet, had they succeeded, they would have managed the greatest art theft in History.
It may sound like a bizarre comparison, but the "Grinch" of Dr. Seuss fame came to mind while reading. The fictional character like his Nazi counterparts attempted to wipe out a culture by taking everything. The list of names of Artists includes every Master that ever painted, sculpted, drew, or any artisan who created a work of beauty. Nothing was overlooked; imagine having to return over 5,000 bells stolen from all over Europe. Yes, bells, as I said they took everything.
The book has some great photographs. There is a photo of one of the Goering residences and the Art he had stolen. It may sound bizarre but it looks like a bad yard sale. Any taste he had was in his mouth. It's quite a feat to amass priceless objects, and then display them in such a way and in such numbers, that the result is a garage sale. The picture also illustrates what the whole theft was about, the desire to have stuff, all the stuff you could steal. Happily they lost, or the world's great art would have become the personal property of the artistically challenged moral degenerates of the Third Reich.
Much more intriguing was Ms. Nicholas's treatment of how so much art was preserved, hidden, and protected. A photograph of DaVinci's "Last Supper", or better said the protective covering, is simply amazing. So too are the photos of American Soldiers casually posing with a Goya, or standing with The Ghent Altarpiece. Aerial photographs of destroyed cities where virtually all that was saved was the Art.
There are also troubling events after the War that remain to the present. So much art was stolen yet again by the Victors, some has reappeared, and much has not. Even the custody that was taken of many works after the War by this Country, and displayed at our National Galleries is an event I would hope we would never again repeat. The value of these objects, the tons of precious metals, and other items are beyond calculation. Hopefully with the changes in Europe and the Former Soviet Union more art will find it's way back to where it originally resided.
In the end all the effort the Nazis expended on their desire to feed there egos probably saved many, many pieces of art. I am in no way suggesting what they did was correct. If they thought they were saving art for future generations of people and not their superior race of automatons, they would have destroyed it. And the Corporal's fondness for Paris didn't hurt either.
A very well written and interesting book for the art lover, or for fans of well crafted History.