Looting and Restitution During World War II: a Comparison Between the Soviet Union Trophy Commission and the Western Allies Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Commission

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From the earliest civilizations, victorious armies would loot defeated cities or nations. the practice evolved into art theft as a symbol of power. Cultural superiority confirmed a country or empire’s regime. Throughout history, the Greeks and Romans cultivated, Napoleon Bonaparte refined, and Adolf Hitler perfected the practice of plunder. As the tides of Second World War began to shift in favor of the Allied Powers, special commissions, established to locate the Germans’ hoards of treasure, discovered Nazi art repositories filled with art objects looted from throughout Europe. the Soviet Union Trophy Commission and the Western Allies Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Commission competed to discover Nazi war loot. the two organizations not only approached the subject of plunder as a treasure hunt, but the ideology motivating both commissions made uncovering the depositories first, a priority. the Soviet trophy brigades’ mission was to dismantle all items of financial worth and ship them eastward to help rebuild a devastated Soviet economy. the Soviet Union wished for the re-compensation of cultural valuables destroyed by the Nazis’ purification practices regarding “inferior” Slavic art and architecture; however, the defeated German nation did not have the ability to reimburse the Soviet State. the trophy brigades implemented a process of restitution in kind to make physical reparations through the confiscation of Nazi war loot. the Western Allies disagreed with the Soviet Union’s policy. the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Commission endeavored to return artwork looted by the Germans to the rightful owners or surviving descendants. Historically, the Western perspective of the Soviet Union’s actions was that the trophy brigades looted the conquered German Reich; however, during the period of Glasnost and after the fall of the Soviet Union, personal memoirs and interviews of Soviet trophy brigade members and museum officials have become available, and the Soviet viewpoint better understood. By analyzing both organization’s principles and actions, historians can assume a new disposition. the trophy brigades and the MFAA worked to salvage Nazi war loot, but the two commissions took divergent approaches as to what should be done with the spoils of war. It must be appreciated that decisions made sixty-seven years ago were made by nations attempting to do what they deemed morally correct but the lack of communication behind each ideology has made Western nations stand in judgment of the Soviet Union’s response.

Creator(s): Zelman, Laura Holsomback
Creation Date: May 2012
Partner(s):
UNT Libraries
Collection(s):
UNT Theses and Dissertations
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Past 30 days: 12
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Publisher Info:
Publisher Name: University of North Texas
Publisher Info: www.unt.edu
Place of Publication: Denton, Texas
Date(s):
  • Creation: May 2012
Description:

From the earliest civilizations, victorious armies would loot defeated cities or nations. the practice evolved into art theft as a symbol of power. Cultural superiority confirmed a country or empire’s regime. Throughout history, the Greeks and Romans cultivated, Napoleon Bonaparte refined, and Adolf Hitler perfected the practice of plunder. As the tides of Second World War began to shift in favor of the Allied Powers, special commissions, established to locate the Germans’ hoards of treasure, discovered Nazi art repositories filled with art objects looted from throughout Europe. the Soviet Union Trophy Commission and the Western Allies Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Commission competed to discover Nazi war loot. the two organizations not only approached the subject of plunder as a treasure hunt, but the ideology motivating both commissions made uncovering the depositories first, a priority. the Soviet trophy brigades’ mission was to dismantle all items of financial worth and ship them eastward to help rebuild a devastated Soviet economy. the Soviet Union wished for the re-compensation of cultural valuables destroyed by the Nazis’ purification practices regarding “inferior” Slavic art and architecture; however, the defeated German nation did not have the ability to reimburse the Soviet State. the trophy brigades implemented a process of restitution in kind to make physical reparations through the confiscation of Nazi war loot. the Western Allies disagreed with the Soviet Union’s policy. the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Commission endeavored to return artwork looted by the Germans to the rightful owners or surviving descendants. Historically, the Western perspective of the Soviet Union’s actions was that the trophy brigades looted the conquered German Reich; however, during the period of Glasnost and after the fall of the Soviet Union, personal memoirs and interviews of Soviet trophy brigade members and museum officials have become available, and the Soviet viewpoint better understood. By analyzing both organization’s principles and actions, historians can assume a new disposition. the trophy brigades and the MFAA worked to salvage Nazi war loot, but the two commissions took divergent approaches as to what should be done with the spoils of war. It must be appreciated that decisions made sixty-seven years ago were made by nations attempting to do what they deemed morally correct but the lack of communication behind each ideology has made Western nations stand in judgment of the Soviet Union’s response.

Degree:
Discipline: History
Level: Master's
PublicationType: Thesi
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Subject(s):
Keyword(s): Looting | Trophy Brigades | Monuments Men | restitution in kind
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Partner:
UNT Libraries
Collection:
UNT Theses and Dissertations
Identifier:
  • ARK: ark:/67531/metadc115187
Resource Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Format: Text
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Access: Use restricted to UNT Community
Holder: Zelman, Laura Holsomback
License: Copyright
Statement: Copyright is held by the author, unless otherwise noted. All rights Reserved.