(JNi.media) While being questioned at Nuremberg, Göring was “humble” about having pulled off one of the most extensive theft of artwork in history with the comment, “everybody loots a little bit.” Now, a full list of the artworks confiscated by Hermann Göring, the highest ranking Nazi after Adolf Hitler, has been made available to the public. Every painting Göring ever stole for his private collection, as well as an exhaustive record of art he looted and sent elsewhere, will be displayed in a book due out in the spring.
The full catalog, which detailed the treasures, the original owners and where the works of art were sent, was kept in French archives, and for decades could be accessed only by scholars. For someone whose ultimate goal was to destroy a large chunk of humanity, Göring had a significant attraction to art, or at least, to confiscating collections belonging to Jews and other enemies of the Nazi regime. Göring decorated his retreat near Berlin, the Carinhall, with looted treasures. At the end of the war, when the Allies were closing in, Göring had the artwork loaded up on trains and sent to Bavaria with a plan to move it onward to Austria, but the Allies intercepted the trains and sent the items to Munich.
The book project was undertaken by Nancy Yeide, head of curatorial records at the National Gallery of Washington. The book is expected to be a substantial resource for museums, researchers and those looking for art stolen from their families. In addition, the book serves as a testament to the staggering extent of Nazi theft. Yeide told the Independent, “Göring was essentially a black hole. No one has ever really looked closely at the collection and tried to reconstruct everything that was ever in it. That has been my goal.” Robert Edsel, an expert on looted artwork, told the Independent, “Nancy (Yeide) has been digging and digging. There are families looking for stolen art. It was a very timely book. When works surface—which they will do—this book will be an invaluable tool.”
Many of the 2,000 paintings created by artists such as Renoir, Botticelli and Monet, along with hundreds of sculptures and tapestries in Göring’s private collection, were stolen from Jewish families. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, whose family of Jewish art dealers lost their collection to the Nazis, expressed satisfaction that the general public will finally have access to information of what art was stolen and from whom. Göring, like many high-profile Nazis, had extensive records kept of his activities, at least in part out of a bottomless need for self-aggrandizement. Now these detailed records have provided significant information to researchers. Göring’s original records showed entries handwritten by at least five different people detailing which paintings hung in which rooms on what walls at Carinhall. World War II historian Jean Marc Dreyfus told the Daily Telegraph, “This is the first time we have the complete catalog. 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 they didn’t have this catalog.”
In addition to thousands of items in Göring’s and Hitler’s private collections, the Nazi loot filled 26,000 railway cars in France alone. Last year, 1,400 works of art were found in a Munich apartment, including paintings by Chagall, Picasso, and Matisse. The apartment belonged to Cornelius Gurlitt, who helped Joseph Göbbels seize, store and sell art considered “degenerate” by Nazi censors. Gurlitt kept a large quantity for himself, including many works that belonged to the Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim.
Hitler and Göring were planning to create a Nazi museum after the war, to display the looted treasures. Hitler planned to feature Bruges Madonna by Michelangelo and two of Vermeer’s greatest paintings. When the Allies won the war, these paintings were recovered from an Austrian salt mine. The mainstream Nazi view was that modern art was degenerate, but a faction declared that modernism had Nordic roots and was permissible. However, Hitler insisted that modern art was depraved and in 1937 held an exhibition he named Die Ausstellung Entartete Kunst— The Degenerate Art Exhibition, to show people just how bad it was. The exhibition featured the works of Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, and Chagall, to name a few. Categories included “Destruction of the Last Vestiges of Racial Consciousness,” and “Complete Madness.” The exhibition was one of the most popular in German history and drew two million viewers to Munich. Göring purchased many of these pieces, even as Hitler was saying the works were decadent.