Shoot, Loot, and Scoot
The Soviet system built its reputation on all for one and one for all. This seems to be a euphemism for what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine.
By December 1941 the Soviets realised that the near-defeated Bolshevik State was certain to be rescued by the U.S and Britain. If a working alliance with Britain and the U.S could turn defeat into victory the pillaging of Democratic Germany could commence.
The allied plunder of the defeated Reich was breath-taking in its unprecedented enormity. Never in the history of conquest and pillage has there been anything to equal the spoils of defeated Germany’s assets.
The Soviet Trophy Commission of The State Defence Committee was established in 1941 by Decree № 3123cc. The department, specifically created to plunder defeated Germany’s human and other assets were later known as the Trophy Committee.
The looting of defeated Germany by the USSR was not limited to official Trophy Brigades. The brigandage included ordinary troops and functionaries given free license to take whatever they could lay their hands on.
At least 2.5 million German artworks and 10 million books and manuscripts disappeared into the Soviet Union. Much of the artwork and treasures were of international importance. Such artworks included the Gutenberg Bibles and many Impressionist paintings; a substantial number of these irreplaceable artworks had been privately owned.
Soviet Union’s Trophy Brigades, supported by the Bolsheviks henchmen in Washington, Wall Street, and Westminster, were described by Magazine as ‘hit lists’.
According to Reparations Commissioner, Edwin W. Pauley, by May 1945, the United States had earmarked 144 plants for removal to Bolshevik controlled Russia. Two hundred key German plants were placed under direct Soviet control. The enslaved German workforce of 1,300,000 was forced to work on starvation wages, the profits going to the USSR.
By 1952 the Soviet Union’s haul of priceless artworks was established at 900,000 works of art, paintings, statues, figurines, artefacts and national treasures. Pillaged artworks include sculptures by Nicola Pisano, reliefs by Donatello, Gothic Madonna’s, paintings by Botticelli and van Dyck, and diverse Baroque works created from stone and wood.
Poland took possession of collections that the beleaguered Reich had evacuated to remote places. Unknown to the then struggling Germans the ‘safe territory’ had already been surrendered to Stalin’s Red Army. The illegal documents were signed by England’s wartime premier Winston Churchill and U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Poles refer to this loot as Berlinka. The lost hoards had mainly been the property of Berlin museums and galleries.
A notable collection in Polish possession is the private collection of 25 historic aircraft once owned by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. (Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung). Ironically, the collection includes two Polish aircraft surrendered to the Germans following the Reich’s pre-emptive invasion of Poland in September 1939.
Entire libraries and archives with files from all over Europe were looted and their files taken to Russia by the rampaging Soviet Trophy Brigades. The Russian State Military Archive (Rossiiskii Gosudarstvenni Voennyi Arkhiv-RGVA) still contains a large number of files of ‘foreign origin’.
Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie Gallery lost a great many major paintings. Among the plunder were seven Peter Paul Rubens artworks, three Caravaggio paintings and three paintings by Van Dyck. The whereabouts of the looted art are unknown. These are thought to be secreted away in depositories situated in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Unlike their Western allies, neither the Soviets nor the Russians today are embarrassed by their pillage of the defeated Reich. The oft-quoted Napoleonic penchant for art acquisition seems to justify Soviet example and avarice. Russian art experts shrug and point to the plundered treasures held in various Western museums and art galleries. This seems to be a case of blame Hitler’s Germany for the sins of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and the British Empire.
Germany was not the only defeated country to see its national artworks, gold bullion and national assets ‘trans-located’ to Bolshevik Occupied Russia. Victims of Soviet and allied rapacity included Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Finland. The illegal transfer of national treasures from defeated Europe to the USSR, Britain and the United States continued into the 1950s and 1960s.
The Russians concede possession of approximately 1.3 million German books, 250,000 museum objects, and more than 266,000 archival files. In particular, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg now has about 800 paintings, 200 sculptures, and papyruses looted from the Austrian Library in Vienna. The Hermitage also has Japanese and Chinese works of art taken from the East Asian Museum in Berlin.
In 1995 The Hermitage exhibited the French art of the 19th century from the German collections of Friedrich Carl Siemens (1877–1952), Eduard von der Heydt, Alice Meyer (widow of Eduard Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer), Otto Gerstenberg, Otto Krebs, Bernhard Koehler and Monica Sachse (widow of Paul Sachse).
In 1996 the Pushkin Museum exhibited the Red Army stolen treasures of the Priamos. In 2007 were displayed German-owned artefacts relating to the Merowinger (Merovingian dynasty). From the Museum für Vor-und Frühgeschichte, Berlin and Museum for Prehistory and Early History, were taken the 7th Century sword scabbard of Schwertscheide von Gutenstein.
Included in the Soviet plunder are extensive collections taken from the Kunsthalle in Bremen. The pillage includes the Baldin Collection). Also taken were the properties of the estates of Ferdinand Lassalle and Walther Rathenau, collections owned by the Bestände der Gothaer library; the renowned library in Wernigerode as well as the armoury at Rüstkammer der Wartburg.
In 2008 it was announced that 87 paintings ransacked from the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museums of Aachen, were exhibited in the museum of city Simferopol in Crimea. Until 2005 these artworks had simply been listed as missing. Interestingly, Aachen had been occupied by the American armed forces.
A brief change of heart occurred when, at a 1998 conference, Russian President Boris Yeltsin promised the return of art ransacked from defeated Germany. His worthy gesture horrified the State Duma of the Russian Federation (parliament). On April 15, 1998, a decree was passed that declared that ‘the cultural valuables trans-located to the USSR after World War II were to be declared national patrimony of the Russian Federation.’ It seemed to be a case of finders keepers, losers weepers.
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