Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Stolen Art Series ~ Nazi Looting

Way back in January, I announced this year’s 2022 Stolen Art Series. Now it’s December, and this series is coming to a close. Though I may write about stolen and missing art again—it is one of my favorite topics!

Over the past few months, we’ve traveled back in time to art thefts that took place in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Asia. Not all the thefts involved famous paintings. Thieves also steal jewelry, figurines, vases, amber, and even Faberge eggs.

Though my artistic talent could fit in a thimble, an art motif often pops up in my fiction even when I don’t plan for it. My interest began about ten years ago when I stumbled across a documentary about Nazi looting during World War II. I’ve been fascinated by this subject ever since.

The amount of looting that took place in such a relatively short period of time is astounding.

Seal of the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg,” used from 1941 to 1944 to mark seized documents by the German occupation troops.

According to Greg Bradsher, the Nazis looted approximately twenty percent of Europe’s art—both from public and private locations. It’s been estimated that over 100,000 items—including china, crystal, and silver—has never been returned to their rightful owners.

Gold rings taken from Buchenwald concentration camp victims.

"The Nazi art confiscation program,” Howard Spiegler writes in an article published in the Connecticut Journal of International Law, “has been called the greatest displacement of art in human history."

Additionally, the Nazis were determined to collect and destroy Jewish books and writing. Take a look at these staggering numbers compiled by Mark Glickman.

In France

· 50,000 books from France’s Alliance Israélite Universelle

· 10,000 books from L’Ecole Rabbinique

· 4,000 volumes from the Federation of Jewish Societies of France

· 20,000 books from the Lipschuetz Bookstore

· 28,000 from the Rotschild family’s personal collection

Thousands of books were also stolen from other Jewish families.

The Netherlands

· 16,000 volumes from Hans Furstenberg, a Jewish banker

· 26,000 volumes from the Bibliotheek van het Portugeesch Israelietisch Seminarium

· 4,000 volumes from Ashkenazic Beth ha-Midrasch Ets Haim

· 100,000 volumes from Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana

According to Glickman, both the Jewish Community Library and a library owned by the Italian Rabbinic College were located at Rome’s central synagogue. He writes that the Germans shipped all the books to Germany in 1943.

As I wrote in last January’s post, the Allies put together the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives unit—more commonly known as the Monuments Men—to protect, find, and recover historic buildings and stolen cultural artifacts.

Omar Bradley, George Patton, & Dwight D. Eisenhower inspect stolen artwork in the Merkers salt mine.

Additionally, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the forerunner of the CIA—created the Art Looting Investigation Unit in November 1944. They were tasked with gathering information on the massive looting, prosecuting war criminals, and providing restitution when possible (DFS; Hussey).

Here are two of my favorite book/movie combos—one featuring the Monuments Men and the other dramatizing the legal battle of one Jewish family against the Austrian government.

Of course, none of this loss compares to the millions who lost their lives in the horrific war and all those who are still bearing the scars caused by this worldwide tragedy.


In case you missed any of this year’s posts about other notorious thefts, here’s a round-up.

Stolen and Lost Artwork

Mona Lisa ~ Stolen in 1911

Gardner Museum Heist

Stealing Cezanne

Ghent Altarpiece

Van Gogh’s “Congregation”

Whitworth Art Theft ~ A Different Kind of Motive

The Skylight Caper

The Three Thefts of Russborough House

Thieves Stole What??

The Unsolved Mystery of the Amber Room

Johnnie imagines inspiring stories in multiple genres. A fan of classic movies, stacks of books, and road trips, she shares a life of quiet adventure with Griff, her happy-go-lucky collie, and Rugby, her raccoon-treeing papillon. Visit her at

Photo Credits ~ All photos (except the book/movie collages) are in public domain and were downloaded from "Nazi Plunder" (Wikipedia).

Sources ~

Bradsher, Greg. “Documenting Nazi Plunder of European Art.” The National Archives of the United States. (November 1997.)

DFS. “The OSS and the Search for Looted Art.” New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS). (Originally retrieved 10 May 2017 for Wikipedia article titled “Nazi Plunder” which was retrieved for this post on 6 December 2022.)

Glickman, Mark. Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books. (Lincoln, NE: The Jewish Publication Society, 2016.)

Hussey, Michael Hussey; Kurtz, Michael J.; and Bradsher, Greg. “Art Looting Intelligence Unit (ALIU) Reports 1945-1946 and ALIU Red Flag Names List and Index.” USS Office of Strategic Services. (Retrieved 8 May 2017 for Wikipedia article titled “Nazi Plunder” which was retrieved for this post on 6 December 2022.)

Spiegler, Howard. “Recovering Nazi-Looted Art: Report from the Front Lines.” Connecticut Journal of International Law. (2001.)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today and for doing this series. I have been amazed by the thefts you have described and the fact that many of these treasures have still not been found. I'm eagerly waiting for your next theme for blogs!! Merry Christmas.