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The Impact of World War Ll on Art in 20th Century

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World War ll was a global conflict that began brewing in the late 1930s and officially began in 1940, involving two opposing sides: the Axis powers and the Allied powers. By the time the war ended in 1945, many pieces of artwork and artifacts were displaced under seizes ordered by Adolf Hitler, leader of the politically dominant Nazi party of the Axis Powers. Today, many of these pieces are still missing, resulting in many countries losing valuable aspects of their culture and history; however, several attempts have been made and even in some cases were successful in recovering these pieces of art.

To settle the debate regarding rightful ownership of these pieces of art, which is rooted in the historical and political context of World War ll, governments of the concerned countries should share the responsibility in relocating these items. Art CollectorsBy the early 1930s, art collectors with valuable collections were already being targeted by the Nazi party in Germany. Adolf Hitler spent most of the 1920s building the strength of this party, and in 1934 he combined the titles of president and chancellor into one as he was elected into office (Adolf 3). Hitler’s prominence in German politics with a group of strong supporters and followers enabled him to assume this position without much backlash from German citizens.

In 1933, the collection of Rudolf Mosse, then under ownership by his daughter and her husband, were sought by Nazis not only because of their priceless possessions but because they were openly faces of the despised “Jewish Press” at the time (Mosse 1). The collection itself consisted of the usual paintings and sculptures along with tapestries, furniture, and antiques that were obtained over several generations (Research 1).

Once the collection was looted from the Mosse Palais in Berlin, a great amount of it was sold off at auctions without documentation; many of the pieces are still missing today (Mosse 1). Similarly, another Jewish collector, Alfred Lindon, fled to Paris in fear of his own safety and had his collection obtained by Nazis. One of the surviving paintings, “First Day of Spring in Moret” by Alfred Sisley, was noticeably damaged; after landing in the hands of a new art collector in 2008, the current owner has since worked with the heirs of the Lindon collection to find and return the lost paintings (Moynihan 1). Recently, the owners and heirs of the Mosse collection have also made their own organization to recover pieces originally belonging to Mosse, having some success with the aid of German institutions, thus creating a stronger and unifying version of the German-Jewish culture today (Research 1).

Jewish Citizens

Jewish people were experiencing prejudice as early as the 1930s as Adolf Hitler rose to be a prominent figure in German society (Adolf 2). By the time World War ll officially started, a large majority of German citizens opposed Jews and concentration camps for them were widespread (Adolf 3). This time period, the Holocaust, deeply impacted Jews as millions of them died under harsh and inhumane conditions despite the United States offering to aid them (Wecker 2). Years after the end of the war, Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel both had their works published, articulating their thoughts about the events of the Holocaust through a Jewish perspective. These authors are regarded as some of the “voices of the Holocaust” that have brought awareness to the subject (How 1).

In 1980, an artist by the name of Art Spiegelman published Maus, a graphic novel that gained worldwide recognition with the likes of Frank and Wiesel. Spiegelman is the son of a Jewish man that was a victim to the traumatic events of the Holocaust, and was inspired to share his experiences nearly forty years later as a tribute to those who lost their lives during this time, including Spiegelman’s own brother. In the graphic novel, Nazis are represented by cats that are wreaking havoc on mice, which represent Jews (How 3). Originally, publishers were quick to judge what appeared to be a silly children’s comic book illustrating World War ll. However, after the graphic novel was finally released, it gained popularity rapidly (Speace 2). Today, Spiegelman’s work is still praised as a well crafted story with meaningful symbolism that highlights the intense fear and hopelessness Jews felt over the course of the Holocaust.

Hitler and the Nazi Party

The popular ideologies of German nationalism and anti-semitism in the early 1900s are the main contributors to the spur of Adolf Hitler’s opposition of Jews. Due to his belief that they tainted the German population and made the country weaker, Hitler portrayed them as the enemies of German citizens after gaining supreme political power. During World War ll, Hitler and the Nazi party dominated Europe and expanded throughout it, dispersing artwork and artifacts along the way. There were two main motives behind the Nazi’s interest in art; for one, finding Jewish collectors and raiding their collections was a method of leaving them in financial unrest. Another motive was the prospect of gaining large amounts of money from auctioning artwork off, allowing Nazis to further fund their war efforts. As Hitler saw it, artwork and its value was permanent and would always belong to the Nazis, no matter what direction the war would take (Nazi 1). Now, in the 21st century, artwork looted by Hitler is regarded with more sensitivity and respect by both the entire world, artists and non artists alike. Finding these pieces is a triumph for the countries who they belonged to and Germany as well, partially undoing a small fraction of the damage that Hitler caused.

Resolution

World War ll and its influence on art has had artistic, historical and political, social, and ethical components. However, hundreds if not thousands of pieces of artwork have been lost throughout the war, assuming they weren’t destroyed; majority of the missing artwork can be tied back to the Nazi regime disposing of them during Hitler’s time in office. Art dealers, who appreciate the value of the pieces, and families of previous artists or art collectors wish to relocate the artwork in hopes that it can be bestowed in their rightful exhibitions. Since the pieces are misplaced under the circumstances of World War ll and political dominance of the Nazi party, Germany and the country the pieces belong to should join together to recover them. Germany holds the most obligation to find them, as it was under their previous government and dictation that they were removed. By helping to recover the art, Germany further strengthens the amends already made between the countries in the past and illustrates admittance to their faults. The country the artwork was looted from should also uphold responsibility to obtain the pieces; it is a part of their culture and history, and it’s their duty to keep these aspects intact. With two forces working together, it also increases the possibility of recovering the artwork and re enforcing the stable relationships between the societies and governments.

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