The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Volume I Chapter XIV
The Plunder of Art Treasures
The General-Gouvernement
(Part 1 of 2)

A. Confiscatory Laws and Decrees

In October 1939 Goering issued a verbal order to Dr. Muehlmann asking him to undertake the immediate securing of all Polish art treasures. (1709-PS)

On 15 November 1939, Hans Frank, Governor-General for the Occupied Polish Territories, issued a decree providing in part:

"Article 1. 1. All movable and stationary property of the Former Polish State *** will be sequestered for the purpose of securing all manner of public valuables." (1773-PS).

On 16 December 1939, Frank issued a decree providing in part:

"Article 1. All art objects in public possession in the General Gouvernement will be confiscated for the fulfillment of public tasks of common interest insofar as it has not already been seized under the decree on the confiscation of the wealth of the former Polish State in the General Gouvernement of 15 November 1939 (Verordnungsblatt GGP, p. 37).

"Article 2. With the exception of art collections and art objects which were the property of the former Polish State, art objects will be considered as owned by the public:

"1. Private art collections which have been taken under protection by the special commissioner for the seizure and safekeeping of the art and cultural treasures.

"2. All ecclesiastical art property with the exception of

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those objects required for the daily performance of liturgic actions.

"Article 3. 1. In order to determine whether art objects are public property in the sense of this regulation, every private and ecclesiastical art possession has to be registered with exact data on the kind, nature and number of pieces.

"2. Everyone who possessed or at the present time is in possession of or else is entitled to dispose of such objects of art since 15 March 1939, is obliged to register the same." (1773-PS)

In order to implement the above decree, the following registration decree wa issued in the name of the Governor General by Dr. Muehlmann, Special Deputy for the Securing of Art Treasures:

"Article 2. 1. Objects of artistic, cultural-historical and historical value which originate from the time before 1850, have to be registered.

"2. The registration includes the following:

"a. Paintings. "b. Sculpture. "c. Products of handicraft (for instance antique furniture, chinaware, glass, golden and silver objects, Gobelins, rugs, embroideries, lacework, paramente, etc.). "d. Drawings, engravings, woodcuts, etc. "e. Rare manuscripts, musical manuscripts, autographs, book-paintings, miniatures, prints, covers, etc. "f. Weapons, armors, etc. "g. Coins, medals, seals, etc.

"3. Regarding the art objects mentioned in section 2, detailed information has to be given if possible, on the master, the time of production, the contents of the representation, measurements and material (for instance, wood, canvas, bronze, etc.) ." (1773-PS)

The seizures authorized by the above decrees ripened into confiscation and assumption of ownership by the General Gouvernement, with the issuance of the following decree by Frank on 24 September 1940:

"Article 1. The property sequestered on the basis of Article 1, section 1 of the decree on the confiscation of the wealth of the former Polish State within the General Gouvernement of 15 November 1939 (Verordnungsblatt GGP, Pg. 37) will be transferred to the ownership of the General Gouvernement." (1773-PS)

Heinrich Himmler, as Reichscommissioner for the Strengthen-

[Page 1108]

ing of Germanism, issued an "urgent decree" to the regional officers of the Secret Police in the Annexed Eastern Territories and the Commanders of Security Service in Krakau (Charkow), Radom, Warsaw, and Lublin. The decree, 11 February 1939, was circulated on 116 February 1939, the same date as the promulgation of the decree of Dr. Muehlmann, above referred to (1773-PS). The Himmler decree contained administrative directions for execution of the Art Seizure program. (R-143)

B. Purpose of Art Seizures.

The purpose of the Seizure Program is indicated in the aforementioned Himmler decree:

"1. To strengthen Germanism in the defense of the Reich all articles mentioned in Section II of this decree are hereby confiscated. This applies to all articles located in the territories annexed by the Fuehrer's and Reich Chancellor's decree of 10 December 39, and the General Government for the Occupied Polish Territories. They are confiscated for the benefit of the German Reich and are at the disposal of the Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of Germanism."



"All confiscations made before this decree by authorities of the Reich Fuehrer SS and the Chief of German Police and the Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of Germanism are hereby confirmed. They are to be regarded as made for the benefit of the German Reich and are at the disposal of the Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of Germanism." (R-143)

The methodical nature of the Art Seizure Program, and the existence of a general policy of confiscation of art treasures, indicated in section V of Himmler's decree:

"In due course the usual questionnaires for cataloguing confiscated articles are to be sent to the Chief Custodian East." (R-143)

The intention to enrich Germany by the seizures rather than merely to protect the seized objects is indicated in a report by Dr. Hans Posse, Director of the Dresden State Picture Gallery:

"I was able to gain some knowledge on the public and private collections as well as clerical property in Cracow and Warsaw. It is true that we cannot hope too much to enrich ourselves from the acquisition of great Art works, of paint-

[Page 1109]

ings and sculptures, with the exception of the Veit- Stoss Altar and the plates of Hans Von Kulmbach in the Church of Maria in Cracow ..and several other works from the National Museum in Warsaw. ***" (1600-PS)

The avowed purpose of the art treasure seizures was the promulgation of German Culture throughout the Occupied East:

"*** the result is put down in the catalogue together with reproductions, and this is a definite proof of the penetration of the East by the German Cultural urge." (1233-PS)

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