The Führermuseum (English, Leader's Museum) was an unrealized museum within a cultural complex planned by Adolf Hitler for the Austrian city of Linz, Hitler's hometown. Its purpose was to display the collection of art plundered or stolen by the Nazis from throughout Europe during World War II.
The expected completion date for the project was 1950, but neither the Führermuseum nor the cultural center it was to be the anchor of were ever built. The only part of the elaborate plan which was constructed was the Nibelungen Bridge, which is still extant.
The idea and overall design concept for a new cultural district in Linz anchored by the Führermuseum was Adolf Hitler's own. He intended Linz to be the future cultural capital of the Reich, and the political capital of Austria, overshadowing Vienna, a city in which he had spent some years as a struggling artist, and about which he felt considerable distaste, not only because of the Jewish influence on the city, but because of his own failure to gain admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.
[Hitler] invisaged Linz as the future seat of the new German Kultur, and lavished all his limited pictorial talent and architectural training on a vast project which would realize this ambition. ... [He] devoted a disproportionate amount of time and energy, for a chief of state, to the plans for Linz, personally creating the architectural scheme for an imposing array of public buildings, and setting the formula for an art collection which was to specialize heavily in his beloved, mawkish German school of the nineteenth century. His private library, discovered by the American Army deep in Austria, contained scores of completed architectural renderings for the Linz project...
In Autumn 1940, Hitler commissioned architect Hermann Geisler to draw up plans for the rebuilding of Linz, based on his own designs. These included a monumental theatre, a library with over 250,000 volumes, an opera house, a collection of armor and an Adolf Hitler Hotel, all surrounded by huge boulevards and a parade ground. Located south of the historic section of Linz, the main buildings, including the Führermuseum, were to be aligned along one main avenue, which after the war was called "a typical National Socialist axis street."
The museum itself, which was designed by Roderich Frick based on Hitler's sketches and specifications, was to be modeled after the Haus der Deutsche Kunst in Munich, and would feature a colonnaded facade about 500 feet (150 meters) long. It would stand on the site of the Linz railroad station, which was to be moved four kilometers to the south. Should the volume of German art bought, confiscated and plundered for the museum be such that expansion was needed, an additional building could easily be integrated into the planned district.
By January 1945, Hitler became obsessed with seeing a model of the planned cultural complex; he had his adjutants and Martin Bormann call Geisler's office repeatedly, to ask when the Fuehrer could view the mnodel. Geisler's office worked around the clock to finish it. The model was finalley set up in the cellar of the New Reich Chancellary, and was ready for viewing on 9 February. Hitler was apparently entranced by what he saw:
Bent over the model, he viewed it from all angles, and in different kinds of lighting. He asked for a seat. He checked the proportions of the different buildings. He asked about the details of the bridges. He studied the model for a long time, apparently lost in thought. While Geisler stayed in Berlin, Hitler accompanied him twice daily to view the model, in the afternoon and again during the night. Others in his entourage were taken down to have his building plans explained to them as they pored over the model. Looking down on the model of a city which, he knew, would never be built, Hitler could fall in reverie, revisiting the fantasies of his youth, when he would dream with his friend Kubizek about rebuilding Linz.
In the first weeks after the Anschluss in March 1938, which united Austria with the German Reich, both the Gestapo and the Nazi Party confiscated numerous artworks for themselves. In response, on 18 June 1938, Hitler issued a decree placing all artwork that had been seized in Austria under the personal prerogative of the Fuhrer:
As part of the seizure of assets hostile to the state– especially Jewish assets – in Austria, paintings and other artwork of great value, among other things, have been confiscated. The Führer requests that this artwork, for the most part from Jewish hands, be neither used as furnishings of administration offices or senior bureaucrats’ official residences nor purchased by leading state and party leaders. The Führer plans to personally decide on the use of the property after its seizure. He is considering putting artwork first and foremost at the disposal of small Austrian towns for their collections.
The intent of the order was to guarantee that Hitler would have first choice of the plundered art, both for his own personal collection, and for his planned Führermuseum.
On 21 June 1939, Hitler set up the Sonderauftrag Linz (Special Commission: Linz) in Dresden and appointed Dr. Hans Posse, director of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister ("Dresden Picture Gallery"), as special envoy. A few days later, on 26 June, Hitler signed a letter intended to give Posse the authority he would need to do this job. He wrote:
I commission Dr. Hans Posse, Director of Dresden Gallery, to build up the new art museum for Linz Donau. All Party and State services are ordered to assist Dr. Posse in fulfillment of his mission.
The Sonderauftrag not only collected art for the Führermuseum, but also for other museums in the German Reich, especially in the eastern territories. The artworks would have been distributed to these museums after the war. The Sonderauftrag was located in Dresden and consisted of art historians in service of the Dresden Gallery of Paintings, e.g. Robert Oertel and Gottfried Reimer.
In the late summer and autumn of 1938, Posse traveled a number of times to Vienna to the Central Depot for confiscated art in the Neue Burg to pick out art pieces for the Linz museum. Posse died in December 1942 of cancer. In March 1943, Hermann Voss, an art historian, director of the Wiesbaden Gallery and former deputy director of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin took over the Sonderauftrag Linz.
The methods of acquisition ranged from confiscation to purchase and includes many cases of forced sale, using funds from sales of Hitler's book Mein Kampf and stamps showing his portrait. Members of the Sonderauftrag Linz made a considerable number of purchasing trips throughout Europe, acquiring a significant number of artworks, and also arranged purchases through art dealers. The purchases were mostly stored in the Führerbau (Hitler's office building) in Munich; the confiscated artworks were stored in deposits in Upper Austria. After February 1944, the artworks were moved to the salt mines of Altaussee to protect them from increased bombing. Detailed records of the collection were kept at Dresden and moved to Schloss Weißenstein at the end of the war, where they were confiscated by the Russians.
In 2008, the German Historic Museum of Berlin published a database with paintings collected for the Führermuseum and for other museums in the German Reich. But the most important historical and visual sources relating to the gallery of the Führermuseum are photo albums, which were created by the Sonderauftrag between autumn 1940 and autumn 1944. They were presented to Hitler every Christmas and on his birthday, 20 April. Originally thirty-one volumes existed, but only nineteen have beenpreserved. The album are documents of the intended gallery holdings, the first 20 volumes show the gallery in a provisional state finished.
There is some debate about whether art for the Führermuseum was stolen or purchased. Hanns Christian Löhr argues in "The Brown House of Art" that only a small portion of the collection – possibly 12 percent – came from seizures or expropriation. Moreover, another 2.5% was derived from forced sales. However, Jonathan Petropoulos, a historian at Loyola College in Baltimore and an expert in wartime looting, argues that most of the purchases were not arms' length in nature. Gerard Aalders, a Dutch historian, said those sales amounted to technical looting, since the Netherlands and other occupied countries were forced to accept German reichsmarks that ultimately proved worthless. Aalders argues that "If Hitler's or Goering's art agent stood on your doorstep and offered $10,000 for the painting instead of the $100,000 it was really worth, it was pretty hard to refuse". Aalders adds that Nazis who encountered reluctant sellers threatened to confiscate the art or arrest the owner. Birgit Schwarz, an expert on the Führermuseum, in her review of Löhr's book, pointed out that the author focused on the purchases in the Führerbau in Munich and ignored the deposits of looted art in Upper Austria (Thürntal, Kremsmünster and Hohenfurt/Vyssi Brod). Actually the author treats these deposits on pages 135 and 136 in his book 
The Dutch Advisiory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War assesses sales by Jews to the Sonderauftrag Linz. At least two restitution claims were rejected because the Committee argued that there were not enough indications showing coercion as the cause of the sale. For example in 2009 the Restitution Committee rejected the application for the restitution of 12 works sold by the Jewish art dealer Kurt Walter Bachstitz to the Sonderauftrag Linz between 1940 and 1941. The Committee argued that Bachstitz had been "undisturbed" in the first years of the occupation nand said it had not found signs of coercion. In 2012 the Commission rejected a claim of the heirs of Benjamin and Nathan Katz, former Jewish art dealers in the Netherlands. The claim related inter alia to 64 works that the art dealership Katz sold to the Sonderauftrag Linz. The Commission came to the conclusion that there were not enough indications demonstrating that the sales were made under duress.
As the Allied troops approached the salt mine, August Eigruber, Gauleiter of Upper Austria, gave orders to blow it up; Hitler countermanded the order, but after the "Führer's" death Eigruber ignored this. Nevertheless his order was not carried out. Most of the collection was recovered, but some was not. Some argue that stolen artwork is hanging in museums and collections around the world. This is discussed in the documentary The Rape of Europa and in Noah Charney's book about The Ghent Altarpiece, Stealing the Mystic Lamb.
After World War II, the American Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) made thirteen detailed reports on the Linz museum and the Nazi plundering of art. These reports were synthesised into four consolidated reports; the fourth of these was written by S. Lane Faison covering the Führermuseum. These reports focused on returning art to rightful owners.
In Eastern Europe, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin tasked Mikhail Khrapchenko with taking many of the Führermuseum artworks to stock Soviet art galleries. Khrapchenko said "it would now be possible to turn Moscow’s Pushkin Museum into one of the world’s great museums, like the British Museum, the Louvre, or the Hermitage."
- "The Führer’s prerogative and the planned Führer Museum in Linz" Art Database of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism website
- Plaut, James S. "Hitler's Capital" The Atlantic (October 1946)
- Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1936-45: Nemesis New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN 0-393-04994-9. pp.777-778
- Bell, Bethany (3 November 2008), "Hitler’s Austrian ‘culture capital’", BBC News, retrieved 13 December 2008
- "Hitler’s Museum", Intelligent Television, retrieved 13 December 2008
- Decree issued by Reich Minister and Head of the Chancellery of the Reich, June 18, 1938. Vienna, Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments, archive, restitution files, box 8/1, fascicle 1. As facsimile in: Theodor Brückler (publ.), Kunstraub, Kunstbergung und Restitution in Österreich 1938 bis heute, Vienna-Cologne-Weimar, 1999, at 157. quoted in "The Führer’s prerogative and the planned Führer Museum in Linz" Art Database of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism website
- Edsel, Robert M. with Witter, Bret. The Monuments Men New York: Center Street, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59995-150-8. p.15
- Schwarz, Birgit. "Sonderauftrag Linz km und „Führermuseum“", in: Ausst.-Kat. Raub und Restitution, Jüdisches Museum Berlin 2008 pp. 127–133 ISBN 978-3-8353-0361-4
- Lohr, Hanns (20 November 2000), No Looted Art in Hitler's Museum in Linz, retrieved 13 December 2008
- DW Staff (24 August 2008). "The Mystery of Hitler's Lost Art Collection". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
- "Database on the Sonderauftrag Linz (Special Commission: Linz)" Deutsches Historisches Museum
- Schwarz, Birgit. "Hitlers Museum". Die Fotoalben Gemäldegalerie Linz. Wien, Böhlau Verlag, 2004. ISBN 3-205-77054-4
- Schwarz, Birgit. "Hitler's Museum", in: Vitalizing Memory. International Perspectives on Provenance Research, Washington 2005, S. pp.51-54
- Robinson, Walter (25 November 1997). "Sotheby's takes work tied to Nazis off". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 18 April 2003. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
- Schwarz, Birgit. "Kampf der Zentauren daheim" Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, (17 October 2005), p. 40
- Dutch Restitution Commission RC 1.78, Consideration 5 and 16, retrieved 7 April 2014
- Dutch Restitution Commission RC 1.90 B, Consideration 21, retrieved 7 April 2014
- Petropolous, Prof. Jonathan, Linz: Hitler's Museum and Library: Consolidated Interrogation Report No. 4, 15 December 1945, The Reports of the Office of Strategic Services Art Looting Investigation Unit, retrieved 13 December 2008
- "WWII veteran had Hitler's art book on bookshelf". Mercury News. 9 December 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2009.[dead link]
- Löhr, Hanns Christian. Das Braune Haus der Kunst: Hitler und der "Sonderauftrag Linz". Berlin Akademie Verlag, 2005. ISBN 978-3-05-004156-8.
- Schwarz, Birgit. "Le Führermuseum de Hitler et la Mission spéciale Linz" in: Gob, André. Des musées au-dessus de tout soupcon, Paris 2007, pp. 164–176. ISBN 978-2-200-35099-4
- Spotts, Frederic. Hitler and the power of aesthetics. Woodstock & New York 2003, pp. 188–220. ISBN 1-58567-345-5.
- 2004 article from Die Welt (in German)
- OSS Report on Hitler's Museum (from Prof. Jonathan Petropolous)
- Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States
- National Archives Announces Discovery of "Hitler Albums" Documenting Looted Art
- Online database of Linz Special Collection at The German Historical Museum covering 4747 works. "It shows paintings, sculptures, furniture, porcelain, and tapestries that Adolf Hitler and his agents purchased or appropriated from confiscated property between the end of the 1930s and 1945, primarily for a museum planned for Linz, but also for other collections."
- History of Linz Collection at the German Historical Museum