At the end of World War II, French soldiers confiscated a curious handwritten book from Nazi leader Hermann Göring. It listed every artwork Göring claimed to own — the vast majority looted from Jewish families he had sent to concentration camps.
The contents of that book were fully released for the first time last week by publisher Flammarion in collaboration with the French government, the Telegraph reported. “Works of art should never be prey,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius writes in a preface to the book. “They constitute a common good of humanity. This truth is timeless; the publication of this work is an occasion to remember it.”
Members of Fabius’s family were Jewish art dealers in the early 20th century, and their collection was seized by the Nazis during the war. Since he assumed office in 2012, he has tried to speed up restoration work and translations of the Göring catalogue so that its contents could be made publicly available. That move could prove a boon to restitution claims for Nazi-looted art, while also offering greater insight into the Nazi officer’s behavior.
“This is the first time that we have the complete catalogue,” historian Jean-Marc Dreyfus, who edited the book, told the newspaper. “My colleagues in other countries tried to reconstitute the list of works in this extraordinary collection, but there was uncertainty over 300 to 400 works because we didn’t have this catalogue.”
Images of the catalogue show an ordinary clerical book with cursive writing. It contains 1,794 entries: 1,376 paintings, 250 sculptures, and 168 tapestries. Each time Hitler’s right-hand man acquired a new work, he wrote it down, recording its name and artist, describing its content and quality, and detailing its origin. And since the Nazis had a penchant for number systems, he gave objects their own classification numbers.
Not all the artworks listed were looted. As Fabius explains in his preface, the first few paintings mentioned when the book begins in 1933 were purchased or received as gifts. They were mostly Northern European landscapes and still lives, as well as treatments of mythological, religious, and historical subjects that reflected the Gestapo founder’s obsession with German national identity. Then, after 1939, things changed. The Third Reich began systematically looting cultural heritage in the countries it occupied. In 1940, Göring stole hundreds of Dutch Master paintings from the Netherlands, as well as some 600 artworks from Paris alone.
He sent many of them to Carinhall, his ritzy chateau outside Berlin. The catalogue includes annotations detailing where each work could be found — in the dining room, for instance hung two Renoirs. Göring had the best of the best: works by Botticelli, Durer, Cranach, Velasquez, Monet, van Gogh. And he knew it. “The inventory shows that the management of its collection of paintings formed until the last months of 1944 one of his main concerns,” Fabius writes.
At the end of the war, Göring packed up all his art and put it on a secret train headed to the Austrian border. It was intercepted by the Allies, sent to Munich, and inventoried, though many of the works never made it back to their rightful owners. Making the contents of the catalogue widely available could change that.
“I am certain that the availability of this new book with the detailed information it contains will enable owners of looted works of art or their heirs to recover their property,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said in a statement. “The restoration of such works to their rightful owners is a long overdue but essential measure of justice. The book will also help to educate the general public, and especially the young, about the Nazis’ utter venality that accompanied their monstrous barbarity.”
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