The Rape of Europa, a documentary on the wholesale thievery of cultural objects by Hitler during the Second World War, is a spellbinding film detailing the plans by the Fascists to steal the treasures of the countries they conquered. Hitler had developed an extensive list of objects he craved. It was in place prior to a single tank or infantryman crossing a border.
We live in a society that still has to argued, cajoled and convinced that Art has value. When we consider all the arguments and articles published in the US — Why We Need Art, Why Art Should Be Taught in Schools, (endless in popular media and academic discussions) whereas our engineering culture is acutely attuned to the value of making stuff that ticks, whistles, honks, moves and especially makes fast profit. We are a practical lot, Puritan at root, and apt to see these Art things as extra dollops of whipped cream rather than the essence of a living culture. This is why this film is so important.
What do invaders want? They want the paintings!
The new film, The Monuments Men has easy Hollywood glam and is entertaining, but I suggest first you see The Rape of Europa. Viewing the DVD several years ago I discovered that one of the art historians, Kenneth Lindsay, was one of The Monuments Men. He was my art history professor undergraduate in the early 60s and though I recall his rapture in describing Pisano’s doors for the Baptistry in Florence — I still remember the way his long fingers fluttered in front of the black and white slides on the screen — I have no memory of his ever mentioning his service to culture in the Second World War.
I wonder if men like Professor Lindsay just packed away what must have been thrilling memories and when finally back home wanted only to start a new and normal life.