Art theft and looting during World War II
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Art theft and looting occurred on massive scale during World War II. It originated with the policies of the Axis countries, primarily Nazi Germany and Japan, which systematically looted occupied territories. Near the end of the war the Soviet Union, in turn, began looting reclaimed and occupied territories.
Although the looting of "cultural heritage" of the German people and private collectors was not permitted in the agreement of Yalta 1945, following the defeat of Germany by the allied forces the following goods disappeared: 3 truck loads of precious art, which was listed in a confiscated list by the US-forces (in the mine Merker in Thuringia); 1 trainload of 20 wagons loaded with artwork and jewels from Hungary (named the "gold train"). According to an article in "Der Spiegel" from 2001 the artwork is suspected in the US and has never been officially been declared. The lost artworks from the "Grube Merker," about 450 pictures, are not found in any museum and thought to have been sold privately.
An attempt by the US to confiscate more German precious art by requesting 202 precious pictures to be taken was been prevented by Walter Farmer on 6 Nov 1945, an art protection officer in Wiesbaden leading the central art collection store. Although against his direct orders from the USA, he assembled 24 colleagues from Germany and Austria and successfully prevented the removal of the pictures (named as operation "Westward Ho").
For organized looting, see:
- art theft and looting by Nazi Germany
- art theft and looting by Japan
- art theft and looting by the Soviet Union
On a smaller scale, art was stolen by individuals from various countries, taking opportunity of the chaotic war conditions. For example, see:
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