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Lost Art

Kunstschutz (art protection)

According to the Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1899 and 1907), protecting art is among the obligations of military administrations in occupied countries.

During World War II, the head office of art protection in France was located in Paris; its duties included protecting palaces and monuments from damage by the Wehrmacht, but also “monitoring the recovery depots of French museums, ensuring and monitoring foreign art holdings, preparing the restoration of cultural artifacts looted in Germany, control and guidance of German art dealing in France […].” (Political archive of the Foreign Office, R 61087a). Its director was art historian Franz Graf Wolff Metternich, from July 1942 his deputy was Bernhard von Tieschowitz. The art protection department was assigned to the Oberkommando des Heeres-Generalquartiermeister (high command of the army—quartermaster general) and in fact sometimes found itself in opposition to organizations of the Nazi state such as the SS, the Gestapo or the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce (ERR).

As the German occupation spread, art protection in the affected areas was also expanded. Art protection was established in all conquered and occupied areas in which a military administration was set up, meaning in Belgium, France, Serbia, Greece (from 1943) and Italy (from 1943), but not in the protectorates (such as Bohemia and Moravia), not in the Reichskommissariaten (such as the Netherlands, Ostland, Ukraine, Norway), not in Reichsgau Wartheland, not in the Generalgouvernement for the occupied Polish areas, not in annexed areas (like Sudetenland, Luxembourg, or Lorraine and Alsace).

However, it failed to prevent the extensive looting of art by the Germans, as the art protection department in some areas developed into stooges for the system, e.g. the ERR in France.

S: Kunsthistoriker im Krieg. Deutscher Militärischer Kunstschutz in Italien 1943-1945, hrsg. v. Christian Fuhrmeister, Johannes Griebel, Stephan Klingen und Ralf Peters (= Veröffentlichungen des Zentralinstituts für Kunstgeschichte, 29), Köln / Weimar / Wien 2012.

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© Stiftung Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste - 2021