If you have ever traveled to Paris and visited the Louvre, you have stood more than a couple of feet from the Mona Lisa and viewed it through bullet-proof glass. But Frédérique Hébrard, daughter of a Louvre curator, got a little closer, as recounted in the documentary The Rape of Europa (2006). Hébrard's father was entrusted with the Mona Lisa when the Louvre was evacuated during World War II. The painting, along with thousands of other works in the Louvre's collection, was sent to a chateau in the south of France, to safeguard it from a Paris invasion and potential destruction or theft. In the documentary, Hébrard recalls opening the wooden case housing the Mona Lisa and gazing at her mysteriously smiling back.
In The Rape of Europa, a documentary based on Lynn H. Nicholas's book by the same title, we learn that, in addition to being mass-murderers who inflicted horror onto innocents, the Nazis were systematic plunderers of art. We all learn in grade school that Adolf Hitler was rejected from art school before gaining political power and establishing the Third Reich. But what many of us may have not learned is that art continued to be an obsession for Hitler throughout his life. The Rape of Europa describes how the dictator purged Europe of art that he hated and viewed as degenerate (modernist art, in particular) and stole art that he coveted. The Nazis' theft and destruction is still felt today, with lost art that has yet to be found and stolen art that is now the subject of disputes.
Hitler had a desire to make Linz, Austria a cultural mecca, with a museum of his design as the focal point. Even before his invasion of Poland in 1939, he had created a "hit list" of artworks that he wanted for his museum, including pieces in the Louvre. The documentary highlights heroes who saved Europe's cultural patrimony, including "Monuments Men" and Rose Valland, who will be the focus of their own post. In addition, Loot! will periodically highlight works of art stolen by the Nazis that were recovered, are still missing, or are disputed.
The Rape of Europa tells a truly riveting story that not even Hollywood's greatest screenwriter could imagine. Check out the trailer, head to the nearest video store (or to Netflix), and return to Loot! for more posts about Nazi plundering.