Book Review: The Rape of Europa

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Committing genocide is not the only way to destroy a civilization. One can attempt to do so by eliminating symbols and icons that represent the very core of that society. Lynn H. Nicholas's The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War presents in incredible detail Hitler's campaign to destroy all 'degenerate' art ("Kulturkitsch") and seize European masterpieces for himself, his colleagues, and planned museum exhibits across Europe that would showcase Aryan work. This book is not a quick read; each page contains heavily researched information about art and history. Nicholas educates the reader not only about the Nazis' program, but also about the counter-efforts they faced. One learns about American art collectors' purchasing trips to save pieces from destruction and theft; Peggy Guggenheim, founder of the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, bought Picassos, Dalis, Magrittes, and a Klee, among others. The book also focuses on the French Resistance, and in particular, Rose Valland. She took care of the collections in Paris's Jeu de Paume. The Nazis stored the artwork they were seizing in Paris in this building, and she kept secret records (they didn't know she understood German and would discuss the plans for the art in front of her), which helped keep track of the works and assist the French Resistance. With her information, they knew which German trains to not blow up. Nicholas discusses America and England's role in the theatre of war; "Monumentmen" assisted in tracking down and saving artwork, though they often clashed with military forces' responsibilities to wage war. Upon finishing the book, the reader walks away with a better understanding of World War Two. It was not simply about military victory; the Allies also fought to preserve Western civilization from the forces that would willingly destroy and corrupt our most beloved and revered icons. I highly recommend this book to everyone.