Nazi-looted Art and How It Defied Oppression

Nazi-looted art

Do all dictators fear art? There are tons of evidence on that fact. Iran’s current Supreme Leader and Shia cleric, the Eminent Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a remarkable fatwa that music education corrupts children, declaring it not compatible with the highest values of the Islam. Masked henchmen came after Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat. They kidnapped him, beat him up and broke three of his fingers in the torture process. Ferzat suffered two broken hands and lost sight in one of his eyes for days. The cartoonist had been famous lately for satirizing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in his cartoons and supporting the Syrian uprising against him. In 2001, Taliban leaders destroyed the 6th-century monumental statues of a standing Buddha carved into a cliff in Hazarajat region, central Afghanistan by dynamiting them to dust. Their reasons -as expected- were to retain sanctity of Islamic state.

Nazi-looted artEnter Adolf Hitler, one of the world’s most evil men, if not on top, how this man dealt with art was one of the most cunning and yet oppressing things. Hitler banned movies for their seemingly “negative depictions of Germans” like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Great Dictator (1952) and La Grande Illusion (1937). Hitler and his Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels instrumentalized films for propaganda and to target the emotions and instincts of the German masses back then.

The Third Reich had a rather deriding view on modern art. The reason behind that was Hitler’s own revenge on the art establishment. When his paintings were rejected for being “too realistic,” Hitler became enraged at the Modern Art concept. With his fascist dreams sending him on top of Nazi Germany in 1934, his hatred for abstract and modern art didn’t subside. Hitler named modern art “degenrate art” and claimed that it was only the product of “un-German,” Jewish Bolshevists.

On a large scale, modern artists were hunted, their works pursued and seized by Nazi soldiers. Over 5,000 works of art were confiscated. No artist was spared and some of the finest European museums were raided by Nazis, fueled by hatred for modern art which they described as “insane,” “indecipherable,” “racially degrading” and “insulting.” Avant-garde German artists were followed and prohibited from showcasing their work in public exhibits. Artists and musicians were dismissed from teaching positions. Book burnings were arranged by so-called Nazi stormtroopers who burned “degenerate” books by Jewish authors like Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and Albert Einstein.

In July 1937, the The Entartete Kunst exhibit “Degenerate Art exhibition” was arranged by Goebbels and attended by Hitler and a dozen Nazi officials, to mock modern art and ridicule a thousand or so works by the greatest modernists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, Alexander Archipenko, Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.

Over sixty years later, German investigators found more than 1,400 pieces of art in the Munich home of an ordinary man, Cornelius Nazi-looted artGurlitt. In some reports, Gurlitt claims to have inherited the artworks from his mother, in others he says that his father was a World War II art collector. The initial reaction to discovering valuable artworks stashed behind cartons in an isolated Munich apartment would vary between sadness and yet hope of how art defies oppression. With dictators dead, only art remains and now pressure is mounted on the German government to return the paintings to their respective Jewish heirs.

As investigations are being made, one could only revel at the beauty of some of these works:

1) Village girl with a Goat by Gustav Courbet.

2) Unknown painting by Marc  Chagall.

3) Seated Woman by the Henri Matisse.

4) Landscape with Horses by Franz Marc.

5) A self-portrait by Otto Dix.

6) Leonie by Otto Dix.

Written by: Jaylan Salah

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