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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

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 ...
Date: May 2012
Creator: Zelman, Laura Holsomback
Partner: UNT Libraries