The hard road to the return of national treasures

  At the end of October 2008, an exhibition entitled “Fifty Years of Lost and Returned” was opened in Berlin, Dresden, Bremen and other major cities in Germany at the same time. The exhibits were all returned to the former Soviet Union 50 years ago. There are tens of thousands of East German artworks and cultural relics, including paintings, sculptures, handicrafts, architectural decorations and archival materials, which commemorate the “fraternity friendship” event of returning national treasures half a century ago. The scene is quite spectacular. Industry insiders are well aware that this move is obviously a gesture of gratitude and affirmation to the former Soviet Union on the one hand, and a euphemism to show the Russian authorities today that these exhibits are at most only half of what they should return, and Half of them are still in the collections of major museums in Russia. When will they be returned to the state in accordance with the Geneva Convention? This is a question that every visitor will think of, and it is related to the annihilating World War II in the last century.
  Numerous facts have proved that Hitler launched World War II with the aim of not only conquering the world by force, but also enslaving the world spiritually and culturally. Therefore, wherever they go, in addition to burning, killing and looting, they also set up a special team called the Second Company, which specializes in looting and looting in the major museums, groups and individuals in their occupied areas by means of coercion and robbery. Art treasures and cultural relics were shipped to Germany one after another. Finally, in Hitler’s hometown – Linz in central Austria, a super art museum with the largest scale, the largest collection and the highest grade was established to show off its “great achievements” and serve Establish a biography by himself, and entrust this task to his capable adviser Hans Poser to complete it concretely. As a result, the former Soviet Union, with its vast land and abundant resources and stars shining in art, became the hardest hit by this plan.
  In 1939, due to the treachery and sudden attack of the fascists, the former Soviet Union was forced to fight hastily, so in the early stage of the war, it retreated steadily. Minsk, the capital of Belarus, a world-famous cultural city, fell into the hands of the German army only 18 days after the war began Speaking of works of art, even the urgently needed military supplies and non-ferrous metals could not be withdrawn in time, so they had to be left to the enemy. Kube, a German general at the time, wrote in a letter to Rosenberg: “Minsk contained numerous paintings and art treasures…almost all of which have now been shipped…to Linz and Nikosburg. “Not only were the Peter and Ekaterina Palaces and museums on the outskirts of Leningrad looted, but even the inlays on the floors and walls were not spared, and were transported away after expert appraisal. Of the more than 4,100 items in the Ukrainian museum’s collection, 39,600 were stolen. According to the statistics of the “Investigative Committee for Nazi Crimes in the Soviet Union”, a state agency established by the former Soviet Union in early 1945, in the first four years of the war alone, as many as 564,723 works of art were stolen by the fascists in various regional museums. Less than a tenth of what was recovered. Some people say that this is because Russian art has never played an important role in the art history of Western Europe, and in the eyes of the Nazis, it is not much better than the Jews, so the damage is so serious that many works of art are still unknown. Anyway, this is all speculation.
  In the later period of the war, with the transformation of the military power of the two sides, the bombing of Germany by the Allies also intensified, forcing the Nazis to transport the works of art they looted, together with the collections of major museums in their own country, to the basements, castles, and shelters in the suburbs. Departments or mines to hide. Later, on the way to Berlin, most of these treasures fell into the hands of the Allies except a few were looted or destroyed in the chaos.
  As for these special “trophies”—the artworks and cultural relics seized by the Allied forces, due to the different experiences and views of different countries at that time, their practices and attitudes were naturally different. The British advocated that the property should be returned to its original owner, while the Americans believed that these things were nothing compared to the losses of the Allies in the war, and should be treated as part of the compensation for the defeated countries. Even if they were returned, they had to wait for Germany to win again. It is the right of a country later. The then U.S. Secretary of State also declared: “The artworks must be returned in full, but the corresponding taxes must be levied to compensate for those cultural and artistic properties that were destroyed in the catastrophe or could not be repaired.” Therefore, the United States in August 1945 , First of all, the special spoils they seized – 202 oil paintings were shipped back to the National Gallery in Washington. Unexpectedly, this move was opposed by some domestic artists and museum directors. They pointed out: “This action is tantamount to the robbery of the Nazis.” However, at that time, the Allies had no specific agreement on these special spoils, and there were no rules to follow, so they had to go their separate ways.
  In the beginning, the attitude of the former Soviet Union was basically the same as that of the United States. They began transporting millions of “trophies” by air, land and water to museums in major cities such as Moscow and Kyiv in July 1945. According to Mikhail Kurz’s “Nazi Sentences” published in late 1955, it conservatively declared: “About 900,000 works of art were shipped to Russia, many of them looted by the Nazis from Eastern, Central and Western Europe, Including famous paintings of various periods in Europe, especially Impressionist works, and the “Gold of Troy” discovered by German archaeologist Herr Schliemann, are really valuable.”
  After the Geneva Conference at the end of 1945, the question of special trophies came to the fore. The initial clear stipulation of the return of the property to the original owner, followed by the establishment of some socialist countries in Eastern Europe. As the head of the “big family”, the former Soviet Union should return the artworks seized in the war to its “brothers”. It was not until the “thaw” period after Stalin’s death that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China made a decision in 1955 to return the artworks of the brother country – East Germany.
  The second time came after the Hungarian incident in 1957. In order to gain the support of “brothers”, Khrushchev finally made a decision to return the East German artworks again. The return of the two “trophies” fully demonstrated the noble style of “Big Brother”, including the most famous Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”, Giorgione’s “Sleeping Venus” and so on. Thousands of treasures are indeed selfless. Even the then Culture Minister Mikhainov’s suggestion to keep some of the oil paintings as a “thank you” or “compensation” was firmly rejected. Unfortunately, due to the gradual formation of the two camps, the wind of the Cold War has intensified. As the leader of the socialist camp, it is impossible to treat the capitalist countries equally and return the “trophies” belonging to West Germany.
  With the reunification of Germany, the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the disappearance of the two camps, since the 1990s, Russia and Germany have also conducted many discussions on the “booty”, but with little success. After that, the voice of anti-return in Russia grew louder and louder. They believed that the German artworks detained by Russia were less than one ten thousandth of the loss of the former Soviet Union, and finally forced the Duma to form a resolution in 1997, that is, “The Red Army seized from Nazi Germany. The cultural works of art should be used as compensation for Russia’s losses and become the property of the country.” But this does not mean that the issue is finally over, and the negotiations between Russia and Germany are still going on in various ways.