Some recent reading:
“The Rape of Europa” by Lynn H Nicholas
You are probably aware that during the Second World War the Nazis stole a few paintings. This lengthy but very readable book details the full extent of the Nazi art looting. They started by seizing and suppressing or selling off what they considered “degenerate” (i.e. modern) art. Then when war was declared and they started to invade other countries, they had organisations set up to seize interesting art for the Fuhrer’s personal collection, for the new German state collection, and for the collection of Hermann Goering. Sellers were often forced to sell at unfavourable prices, and the property of Jews was often simply stolen. The quantities involved were astonishing, running into museums full, trainloads, salt mines full, over a million art items in all.
Meanwhile, national collections were being packed up all over the UK and Europe and shifted to safer accommodation.
When the Nazis were being defeated, the Allies put the process into reverse, setting up their own art protection and recovery teams, who followed closely behind the armies, trying to secure and protect what they could.
Many well-known works had an eventful and hazardous time during WW2, and an unquantified number of art items disappeared forever amongst the ruins. A trickle is still appearing today, as the descendants of those who took works into “safekeeping” go public.
A fascinating and eye-opening book, well worth reading.
“Tokyo” by Mo Hayder.
The Good German of Nanking – the dairies of John Rabe, edited by Erwin Wickert
Two books concerned with the notorious “Rape of Nanking” by the Japanese forces in 1937-38.
The first is a fictional thriller, in which the socially dysfunctional heroine, Grey, has been obsessed since childhood with the tale that a movie film record exists of some of the Nanking atrocities. She travels to Tokyo to interview an aged Chinese survivor of the massacre. She becomes convinced that this man has the film. While trying to persuade him to show her the film, she also gets involves with a nasty Yakuza gangster. The Nanking atrocities as depicted in the novel are also very nasty.
Over to the non-fictional diaries of John Rabe, who was a German businessman who worked in Nanking, running the Siemens office there. When the Japanese invaded, he felt obliged to stay on to protect his firm’s interests, and protect the Siemens Chinese staff and their dependants as best he could. He was also involved, with other foreigners, in setting up a “Safety Zone which they hoped would protect the Chinese civilians from the Japanese soldiers, not to mention the disorderly retreating Chinese troops. He also kept a diary.
One should recollect that at the time Germany and Japan were allies, so there is every reason to accept Rabe’s account as accurate. The Japanese troops killed all Chinese soldiers they could find, and also Chinese men whom they suspected of being soldiers, and broke into buildings looking for women to rape, killing any Chinese who resisted. They looted and destroyed throughout the city, and killed all livestock in the surrounding countryside, and embarked on a systematic looting and arson that eventually left much of the city in ashes. The Chinese were killed for resisting the ravages of the disorderly Japanese troops, or for no reason at all. In total, the number who died is thought to run to around a quarter of a million, though at the time nobody was counting the dead. Rabe’s efforts, though continually frustrated by Japanese indifference, are thought to have saved a similar number.