06 September 2010

The Rape of Europa: Documentary

A French Jew was drafted by the Nazis to pack French artwork into trains, which would carry the art past French national lines, from what was then occupied French territory. Among the lootings, he discovered his own decimated family's possessions. He managed to snag away some family photographs. He has been holding onto them to this day. The Rape of Europa, based on Lynn Nicholas's book by the same title, is more than an adequate title for this documentary, which vividly recounts the brutal treatment of art collections and important monuments in seven different European countries during World War II. Chronologically beginning with the occupation of Vienna, and moving through Warsaw and Krakow, then Paris, St. Petersburg, Florence, Rome, Pisa and ultimately Berlin, the documentary highlights a series of complex attitudes toward the cost of human life  incurred during the protection of the art, while all the time maintaining that art and human life are interlinked and one is meaningless without the other.

The film contains disturbing footage of important European monuments in ruin, monumental and seminal artwork packed into wooden boxes, jam packed into trains, salt mines and Medieval countryside castles, and even an Allied bombing raid on the train yards in Florence, which according to the film harbors 10% of the world's art. The postwar restitution of artwork pillaged by the Nazis is another complexity the film explores. Interviews with agents involved in transporting or protecting artwork during WWII reveal a deep attachment to art as cultural and national inheritance.

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