The Rape of Europa

Actual Films. <i>117 minutes</i>.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


In 1907, an 18-year-old watercolorist named Adolf Hitler applied to and was rejected by Vienna’s prestigious Academy of Fine Arts. The rebuff only fueled his obsession with art and may help explain why, years later, the Third Reich would systematically steal one-fifth of Europe’s artistic treasures.

The Rape of Europa, based on Lynn H. Nicholas’ 1995 book of the same name, is a powerful exposé of the greatest art theft in history. The Nazis lifted 650,000 pieces from Europe’s museums and private collections. Some were slated for Hitler’s Louvre-sized museum of Aryan artwork, while others were stashed in underground warehouses. But Hitler wasn’t just collecting masterpieces; thousands of works by “degenerate” artists, among them van Gogh and Matisse, were rounded up and sold or burned. Arbitrary designations—Kraków was “Slavic,” Warsaw was “Germanic”—dictated what was looted, left behind, or destroyed.

While private citizens, particularly Jews, could do little to save their collections, some museums went to elaborate lengths to protect their treasures. By the time the Germans reached Paris, the halls of the Louvre were lined with empty frames. Nearly everything, including the massive Winged Victory of Samothrace, had been shipped to country estates; the Mona Lisa escaped in a humidity-controlled ambulance, swathed in red satin. As the Nazis’ defeat became inevitable, vitriol outweighed aesthetic sensibility. Retreating German armies dynamited medieval bridges and decapitated statuary before American “Monuments Men” could rescue them.

Even today, hundreds of stolen pieces “donated” to museums remain hotly contested. A few have been returned to their original estates, such as a Klimt portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer that recently sold for $135 million. But thousands of artworks have never reappeared and are now remembered only by their grainy photographs in Nazi catalogs.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate