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From artwork to champagne: Nazi plunder during WWII (1945)

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Nazi plunder made Huns look like pickpockets

Looting told in indictment: Valuable books, art works carried off

By Graham Hovey

As plunderers and despoilers, the Nazis made their Hun forebears look like pickpockets and Halloween pranksters.

The Allied war crimes indictment released today indicates that on many occasions the Nazis simply demolished what they couldn’t carry off. But what they carried off was plenty. For instance:

“The museums of Nantes, Nancy, old Marseilles were looted. Private collections of great value were stolen. In this way, Raphaels, Vermeers, Van Dycks and works of Rubens, Holbein, Rembrandt, Watteau, Boucher disappeared. Germany compelled France to deliver up ‘The Mystic Lamb’ by Van Eyck, which Belgium had entrusted to her.”

Valuable volume gone

From Kiev, the Germans carted away more than four million books, magazines and manuscripts, “many of which were very valuable and even unique,” and a large number of artistic productions.

Many valuable art productions, 100,000 valuable volumes, and 70 cases of periodicals and precious monographs, were stolen from Riga.

It was not only in art that the Nazi occasionally showed good taste. For example, they “removed” 87 million bottles of champagne from France.

All told in France, German plundering from private enterprise approximated 257,020,024,000 francs, or $5,140,400,480 in US money at the [1965] current exchange rate, and 55,000,100,000 francs, or $1,100,002,000, from the state. In addition, from June, 1940, to September, 1944, the French treasury was compelled to give Germany 631,866,000,000 francs, or $12,637,320,000.

The Germans also extracted millions of tons of raw materials; great quantities of industrial equipment; agricultural produce, and manufactured products from France.

But the French loot figures are dwarfed by those of Russia. In state prices of 1941, the Soviet Union estimates its material loss at 679 billion rubles. At the diplomatic exchange rate, that figure would be $56,560,700,000 in American cash.

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>> Also see: Early firsthand reports of Nazi concentration camps (1945)

Museums destroyed

Much of Russia’s “material loss” represents destruction, and the Nazis seemed to be even better at that than at plunder.

For example, they destroyed 427 Russian museums, including those of Leningrad, Smolensk, Stalingrad, Novgorod and Poltava. They wrecked 1,670 Greek Orthodox churches, 237 Roman Catholic churches, 67 chapels and 532 synagogues.

The Nazis seemed to take particular delight in wrecking “monuments of culture, dear to the Soviet people.” Thus, they destroyed the estates and desecrated the graves of the poet, Pushkin, and the writer, Tolstoy.

They wrecked the museums of Tchaikovsky, the composer, and Repin, the painter.

These acts are recorded in the indictment because they are violations of the Hague regulations in 1907, the laws and customs of war, the general principles of criminal law, and the internal penal codes of the countries where they were committed.

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