Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression Volume I Chapter XIV The Plunder of Art Treasures The General-Gouvernement


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

“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

“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

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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,
“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-

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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.”

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-

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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.”

C. Nature, Extent, and Value of Property Seized.

Virtually the entire art possession of Poland, private as
well as public, was seized by the General Gouvernement (1233-
PS). In a catalogue of the more important works of art
seized by the General Gouvernement, paragraph 1 of the
Foreword contains the following admission:

“On the basis of the decree of the General Governor for
the Occupied Polish Territories of December 16,1939,
the Special Delegate for the Safeguarding of Treasures
of Art and Culture was able in the course of six months
to secure almost the entire art treasure of the
country, with one single exception: the Flemish Gobelin
series from the castle in Cracow According to the
latest information, these are kept in France, so that
it will be possible to secure them eventually.” (1233-

The nature and extent of materials seized by the General
Gouvernement is indicated in Document 1709-PS. The document
inventories the objects seized, and divides them into two
classifications: those of primary importance (“Reich-
important”), and those of secondary importance. Articles of
primary importance, totaling 521 separate objects, are also
set forth in a descriptive catalogue. (1233-PS)

The articles catalogued include paintings by German,
Italian, Dutch, French, and Spanish masters, rare
illustrated books, Indian and Persian miniatures, woodcuts,
the famous Veit-Stoss hand-carved altar, handicraft articles
of gold and silver, antique furniture, articles of crystal,
glass and porcelain, tapestries, antique weapons, rare
coins, and medals. The objects were seized from both public
and private sources, including the National Museum in Cracow
and the National Museum in Warsaw, the cathedrals of Warsaw
and Lublin, a number of churches and monasteries, the
Chateau of the Kings in Warsaw, university and other

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libraries, and a large number of private collections of the
Polish nobility. (1709-PS)

Items placed in the second category are of the same nature
as those placed in category I. Approximately 500 separate
items are catalogued, many of the items including a large
number of separate objects treated under a single catalogue
heading. (1709-PS)

The value of the objects seized from 22 collections is
stated to be 9,437,000 Zloty. The materials referred to are
only a portion of those selected as being of secondary
importance. No valuation is given as to the balance of the
items of secondary importance or as to the 521 objects
selected as being of primary importance. (1709-PS)

D. Evidence That Seizures Were Not Merely for Protective

In Dr. Posse’s report (1600-PS), a number of items are
referred to which may be found in the catalogue of art
objects “made secure” (1233-PS):

“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 paintings and sculptures, with the
exception of the Veit-Stoss altar and the plates of
Hans von Kulmbach in the Church of Maria in Cracow, the
Raphael, Leonardo and Rembrandt from the collection
Czartoryski, and several other works from the National
Museum in Warsaw, *** works of a rather high value of
whose existence we in Germany had already known. Richer
and more extensive is the Polish stock of ‘objects
d’art’, such as handicraft in gold and silver, of
German origin to a large part, particularly from the
Church of Maria and the Cathedral of Wawel, tapestries,
arms, porcelains, furniture, bronzes, coins, valuable
parchment scrips, books, etc. ***”
“As I said before, I shall not be able to make
proposals regarding the distribution as long as an
inventory of the entire material does not exist.
However, I should like to reserve for the museum at
Linz the three most important paintings of the
Czartoryski collection, namely the Raphael, Leonardo
and Rembrandt which are at present in the Kaiser-
Frederick Museum in Berlin. We in Dresden are
particularly interested in the interior decorations of
the castle of the Kings in War-

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saw since Saxonian architects and artists have created
them; therefore, the suggestion is made that the
salvaged parts of it (panellings, doors, inlaid floors,
sculptures, mirrors, glass chandeliers, porcelains,
etc.) be used for the interior decoration of the
Pavillion of the ‘Zivinges’ in Dresden.” (1600-PS)

The following items listed in the above report are also
listed in the catalogue:

Catalog No.

Veit-Stoss Altar
Hans Vol Kulmbach Works
Church of Maria Handicraft 262-265, 279,
From Jagellonic Library 166, 167,

199-203, 206, 209,

212, 215-224

(See 1233-
PS, 1600-PS.)

Appendix 8 of Document 1709-PS lists a large number of
objects which were turned over to Architect Koettgen. The
items listed include, in addition to paintings, tapestries,
etc., plates, dishes, cups and saucers, vases, cream
pitchers, glasses, a bread basket, a service tray, and other
items of table service. These objects were turned over to
the architect for the purpose of furnishing the Castle at
Cracow and Schloss Kressendorf for the Governor. (1709-PS)

A number of objects were transported out of Poland and
placed in Berlin in the Depot of the Special Deputy or in
the safe of the Deutsche Bank (1709-PS). Items at this
location are also listed in the catalog (1233-PS) as numbers
4, 17, 27, 35, 42, 45, 47, 51, 138, 141, 145, and 148.

Thirty-one sketches by Durer were taken from the collection
Lubomierski in Lemberg:

“The Special Deputy has personally handed over these
sketches in July 1941 to the Reichsmarshal who took
them to the Fuehrer at headquarters where they remain
at the present time. On express direction of the
Fuehrer they will stay in his possession for the time
being.” (1709-PS)

All art objects seized were screened for those which were
important from the German point of view:

“The Reich-important pieces were collected in a
catalogue of the so called ‘First Choice’. One copy of
this catalogue has been submitted to the Fuehrer who
reserved to himself the first

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decision as to location and use of the art objects of
the ‘First Choice’ “. (1709-PS)

Dr. Muehlmann, the “Special Deputy for the Safeguarding of
Art Treasures” in the General Government, has confirmed that
it was the policy and purpose of the art seizure program to
confiscate the art treasures and to retain them for the
benefit of Germany:

“I confirm, that it was the official policy of the
Governor GeneraI, Hans Frank, to take into custody all
important art treasures, which belonged to Polish
public institutions, private collections and the
Church. I confirm, that the art treasures, mentioned,
were actually confiscated, and it is clear to me, that
they would not have remained in Poland in case of a
German victory, but that they would have been used to
complement German artistic property.” (3042-PS)