The Rape of Europa

Actual Films. <i>117 minutes</i>.

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In 1907, an 18-year-old watercolorist named Adolf Hitler applied to and was rejected by Vienna’s prestigious Academy of Fine Arts. The rebuff only fueled his obsession with art and may help explain why, years later, the Third Reich would systematically steal one-fifth of Europe’s artistic treasures.

The Rape of Europa, based on Lynn H. Nicholas’ 1995 book of the same name, is a powerful exposé of the greatest art theft in history. The Nazis lifted 650,000 pieces from Europe’s museums and private collections. Some were slated for Hitler’s Louvre-sized museum of Aryan artwork, while others were stashed in underground warehouses. But Hitler wasn’t just collecting masterpieces; thousands of works by “degenerate” artists, among them van Gogh and Matisse, were rounded up and sold or burned. Arbitrary designations—Kraków was “Slavic,” Warsaw was “Germanic”—dictated what was looted, left behind, or destroyed.

While private citizens, particularly Jews, could do little to save their collections, some museums went to elaborate lengths to protect their treasures. By the time the Germans reached Paris, the halls of the Louvre were lined with empty frames. Nearly everything, including the massive Winged Victory of Samothrace, had been shipped to country estates; the Mona Lisa escaped in a humidity-controlled ambulance, swathed in red satin. As the Nazis’ defeat became inevitable, vitriol outweighed aesthetic sensibility. Retreating German armies dynamited medieval bridges and decapitated statuary before American “Monuments Men” could rescue them.

Even today, hundreds of stolen pieces “donated” to museums remain hotly contested. A few have been returned to their original estates, such as a Klimt portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer that recently sold for $135 million. But thousands of artworks have never reappeared and are now remembered only by their grainy photographs in Nazi catalogs.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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