Watched The Rape of Europa last night on Netflix and, while it was certainly good, it was a victim of stuffing way too much story into too small a run time. The film details the industrial-scale art theft that Nazi Germany engaged in in the run up to, and during World War II. First stealing art from Jewish families and art collectors and then moving on to the great museums of Europe as their war machine spread across the continent. The film also deals with the “Monuments Men” of the Allied forces who were charged with preserving as much of Europe’s architectural history they could, while still bombing the bejeesus out of the German and Italian armies.
The unfortunate part is that, while all of this is fascinating, a two hour runtime only allows for a hit and run approach to six or seven fascinating stories that probably could easily fill their own movie. Particularly interesting is the story of The Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. Half of the museum’s collection was successfully evacuated to Siberia but the remainder was left in the hands of museum employees who stayed in the building during the grueling winter siege, doing all they could to protect the art and the building itself from the elements. It’s an amazing story that gets about ten minutes in the film.
The same can be said for the Monuments Men themselves, who are charged with protecting Europe’s cultural history but given little in the way of support so they have to beg, borrow, or steal what they need to protect ancient works of architecture while participating in a massive war effort. Fortunately, they’re getting a movie of their own soon.
If you’re interested in the subject, I’d definitely recommend checking it out, but be prepared to do some digging afterwards.
I was reasonably familiar with the Nazi art plunder story going into this documentary, partially because of a fascination with the mystery of Trojan gold. I hadn’t known about the Monuments Men though.
Two books if you’re interested in more data:
. (Edsel also wrote the companion book “Rescuing Da Vinci”).