Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Third Reich's Pillage of European Art and Treasures

The Art Boom

During World War II, Europe experienced a huge art boom due to the great supply and demand for degenerate and Germanic works. The Paris art market experienced a significant amount of activity and flourished more than other occupied territories. The city was flooded with enthusiastic collectors, mostly German, and opportunist eager to make a safe investment in uncertain times. In fact, art became like money and was often bartered for black-market goods, such as exit visas, items of luxury or food.

According to Feliciano, agents for German museums, embassies and the Deutsche Reichsbank made up the majority of Franco-German deals. Many of these were then transferred to Germany. Surprisingly, amongst the pure works exported was degenerate art. Feliciano stated that some German dealers and art collectors were brave enough to ignore Hitlers directives and even bought work by artists classified as Jewish. It was clear that Hitlers goal of complete Aryanization of the market was ineffective.

Tens of thousands of confiscated art works were housed in Paris at the Jeu de Paume Museum, one of the ERRs main offices. Works that were considered degenerate, such as those by Chagall, Monet, Dufy or Vuillard were often sold for a profit to collectors. Perhaps the most significant collections to be sold off from the Jeu de Paume were those looted from prominent Jewish citizens Paul Rosenberg and the de Rothschild family. They included paintings by Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir, among others.  

Paul Rosenberg
Paul Rosenberg

The art market in France prospered throughout the war. Consequently, many collectors and art dealers made a great deal of money. Moreover, the art boom contributed greatly to the French economy. It was all made possible by a series of Nazi laws.

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