For those who had their appetites peaked by the story of The Monuments Men and felt unsatisfied by the film directed by George Clooney, there is an antidote for that. It is called The Rape of Europa, based on the book by Lynn Nicholson of the same title with the somewhat unweildy subtitle: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. This is a thorough and well-researched account of the heroic efforts which went into securing, tracking down and re-patriating the great masterpieces of European art and architecture plundered by the Nazis. What was sadly lacking in the Clooney film is what an amazing amount of effort was involved and gives a real sense of both the scale of the Nazi’s plans and what was actually implemented. The enormity of the task of the Monuments Men was far more complicated and wider-reaching and involved more than just this small band of comrades. This film is loaded with documentary footage of the staggering hoards which were uncovered and interviews with those whose property was stolen as well as curators and those involved with the sixty post war years of ongoing efforts.
Filled with fascinating facts such as the allied bombers were instructed precisely where to drop their bombs when it became necessary to bomb a train station in Florence as it was a key Nazi supply route. It was as we like to say today “surgical” so as not to destroy the Ufizzi and various surrounding important architectural monuments (arguably most of Florence). Also, news to me, that the Louvre emptied out all of its galleries, including the Nike of Samothrace and moved the whole collection to locations outside of Paris before the occupation as a precaution. No one would have imagined that Hitler would decide not to bomb Paris.
It is stunning to realize that the high command in the Nazi party appear to have had as much zeal for enriching their cultural coffers with works of art for the glorification of Hitler and the party as they did for purging Europe and the world of modern art which they deemed degenerate and the Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals which they deemed impure. If that seems an anathema what is is breathtakingly consistant is the diligence and thoroughness with which both goals were carried out. Narrated by Joan Allen. This is the film that the Monuments Men deserve.
The film can be found on Netflix and the book on Amazon.
Review by Belle McIntyre