The Rape of Europa

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

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


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.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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