The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fifty-Second Day: Wednesday, 6th February, 1946
(Part 1 of 6)

[Page 100]

M. FAURE: If it please the Tribunal, M. Gerthoffer will now present the brief concerning the pillage of works of art.

M. GERTHOFFER: The Economic Section of the French Delegation had prepared a report on the pillage of works of art in the occupied countries of Western Europe.

We had thought, at the session of 22nd January, of waiving the presentation of this statement in order to expedite the proceedings, while holding ourselves the disposal of the Tribunal should they consider the presentation necessary. However, since then, on 31st January, the American prosecutor was good enough to inform us that the defendant Rosenberg intended to maintain that the artistic treasures were collected only in order to be "protected."

We consider, from the documents which we are holding at the disposal of the Court, that this cannot be a question of protection only, but of genuine spoliation, and I am at the Tribunal's disposal to prove this, in a statement which I shall make as brief as possible, while offering in evidence the documents which we had already collected. If the Tribunal wishes, I can make this very brief statement. In any case, I am at the disposal of the Tribunal.

Mr. President, Gentlemen: The pillage of works of art has a cultural significance, to which I shall not refer again, since it was the subject of a statement presented by Colonel Storey on 18th December, 1945. I shall examine the subject only from the economic point of view, in order to complete the report on the general spoliation of the Western European countries.

As the Tribunal will realise, the leaders of the Reich primarily and systematically seized works of art belonging to private individuals, mostly under the pretext that these individuals were Jews, thus procuring for themselves very valuable means of exchange. In Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France, picture galleries, public as well as private collections, antique furniture, china and jewelry were stolen.

It was not a question of individual looting, of pillaging by soldiers, such as is encountered in all wars and of which we still find examples; this campaign of plunder was carried out in a systematic and disciplined manner. The methods introduced varied in character. Personal judgment and personal initiative could be exercised only in so far as they contributed to the execution of plans already elaborated by the National Socialist leaders before the month of June, 1940.

The official organisation for pillaging was primarily Minister Rosenberg's Special Staff for the Occupied Territories of Western Europe and the Netherlands. If this organisation was not the sole agent, it was the most important one. Colonel Storey has already drawn the attention of the Tribunal to this criminal behavior.

The urge to seize works of art, as well as material wealth, underlies the policy of National Socialist expansion. The behavior in Poland of the defendant Frank has already given sufficient proof of this. The idea of seizing this valuable booty arose at the time of the invasion of Western Europe. From the very beginning, in their haste and their desire to seize as much as they could,

[Page 101]

several parallel authorities would carry out the confiscations; first the military authorities, either indirectly, as in Holland, through the special services of the "Devisenschutzkommando," or directly, as in France, through the "Department for the Protection of Works of Art." Further, the same mission was entrusted simultaneously to the civil authorities, whether represented -- in Paris -- by the German Embassy, or -- in Holland -- by the Office of Enemy Property under the auspices of the Reich Commissioner. This plurality of control, moreover, did not end with the establishment of the "Stab Rosenberg."

This is the first phase in the pillage of works of art. According to official correspondence, as well as to the statements of Otto Abetz; the initiative may be attributed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, beginning with the defendant Ribbentrop.

The first phase lasted from the entrance of the Germans into the countries of Western Europe until October, 1940.

The second phase opened with the arrival of "Einsatzstab Rosenberg," which appeared on the scene under the aegis of the defendant Goering. From now on this "Einsatzstab" must be considered primarily responsible for the organised pillage.

Towards July, 1942, a third phase opens in the history of the "Special Staff." The person primarily responsible is the defendant Alfred Rosenberg. The activities of this staff did not cease in Europe until the liberation. One part of the archives of the Rosenberg services fell into the hands of the French armies; another part, which had been sent to Fuessen, was seized by the American Army, which also picked up the personal files of the defendant Rosenberg. This is the origin of the "PS" documents submitted to the Tribunal.

The seizure of works of art began with the entry of the German troops into Holland, Belgium, and France. In Paris, as from the month of June, there was an Embassy service directed by von Kunsberg and Dr. Dirksen similar to a specialized service of the Military Governor directed by Count Wolff Metternich. This order of seizure, in defiance of the Hague Convention, applied to public as well as to private property. The defendant Keitel, on 30th June, 1940, issued an order to the Governor of Paris, General von Bockelberg. I submit a copy of this order as Exhibit 1301. Here it is:

"The Fuehrer, on receiving the report of the Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs, has issued an order to safeguard for the time being, in addition to objects of art belonging to the French State, also such works of art and antiques which are private property -- especially Jewish private property -- against removal or concealment, by storing them with the occupation Power, after previously marking them with the names of their present owners.

This is not to be considered as an appropriation, but as a transfer into our custody, to serve as a pawn in the peace negotiations."

Identical measures were soon taken in Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

THE PRESIDENT: That was 1301, was it not?

M. GERTHOFFER: 1301, yes, Mr. President, the first document.


M. GERTHOFFER: Exhibit RF 1302, which is a document discovered by the Army of the United States and which was registered under Number 137-PS, a copy of which I submit, was drawn up by defendant Keitel on 5th July, 1940:

"Reichsleiter Rosenberg has suggested the following to the Fuehrer:

(1) State libraries and archives to be searched for documents of value to Germany.

(2) The Chancelleries and High Authorities of the Church, as well as the Masonic lodges, to be searched for proofs of political activities

[Page 102]

directed against us and the proofs in question to be seized. The Fuehrer has ordered that this suggestion be carried out and that the Gestapo, assisted by the Special Keepers of the Archives of Reichsleiter Rosenberg, be placed in charge of the search. The Chief of the Security Police, SS Gruppenfuehrer Heydrich, has been informed. He is to contact the Military Commander competent to deal with the execution of these orders.

These measures to be executed in all regions of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France which are occupied by us. It is requested that subordinate offices be informed.

The Chief of the High Command of
the Armed Forces,

(Signed) Keitel."

As Exhibit RF 1303 I offer in evidence a copy of Document PS- 139, drawn up for Holland and in approximately the same terms, and as Exhibit RF 1304 I submit a copy of Document 140-PS which is an analogous order for Belgium.

At the same time, by a decree of 15th July, 1940, in execution of Keitel's orders, a decree for the protection of works of art was issued in the occupied territories. This decree appeared in the German Official Bulletin VOBIF No. 3, Page 49 and following pages. I submit a copy of this decree as Exhibit RF 1305 and I request the permission of the Tribunal to quote the two following paragraphs:

First paragraph: Section 1:

"Moveable works of art will not be taken from the place where they are at present or modified in any way whatsoever without the written authorisation of a superior commander of the Military Government."
Section 3:
"Moveable works of art whose value exceeds 100,000 francs must be declared by their owners or custodians in writing, prior to 15th August, 1940, to the competent 'Feldkommandantur' or some other authority indicated by him."
If the Tribunal will kindly recall the explanation which I had the honour of presenting some weeks ago, it will remember that the Germans had, at the same time, issued similar decrees for freezing or immobilising private property, currency, and other assets.

In this decree, made known to the population of the occupied territories, the question of safe-keeping and confiscation had not yet arisen; the decree merely dealt with immobilisation and declaration -- preparatory measures, these, for future spoliation, and an indication of bad faith to be remembered.

Beginning with that period, seizures were carried out of the most famous French-Jewish art collections, seizures made under such conditions that they provoked numerous protests which were submitted to the Armistice Commission at Wiesbaden.

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