Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Rape Of Europa

Little fact about me: I plan on going to graduate school to become a film archivist (still and/or video).

The Rape Of Europa is a documentary based on the book of the same title by Lynn Nicholas. Everyone knows about the Holocaust and the genocide of 6 million Jews. What gets overlooked, however, is how Hitler was able to not just destroy people but also their cultures and symbols. The Rape Of Europa tells the story of Hitler's Third Reich by focusing on art and architecture and how they were affected by WWII. In addition to the reckless bombing that nearly decimated all of the ancient architecture in Europe, Hitler and his officers raided museums and private collections of innumerable classic pieces to be used in their own collections. Hitler himself, when creating plans for the remodeled city of Linz, had in mind the world's largest museum erected in his name. Europa has tales of specific paintings and their journeys from prestigious museums to hidden mines and it tells of specific people who did everything they could to stop the wrecking and pillaging. Because this is an account of one of most destructive moments in recent history, this movie is, for the most part, a downer.

As devastating as Europa is, however, there were still many moments of courage and hope. There was one French woman who worked in a museum in Paris before the war, who was transfered to work in a museum-turned-warehouse that was being used as a depository for all of the stolen artworks. This unassuming woman, who secretly spoke German, kept a diary of every piece of art that came and went through the museum. During her workday, she would memorize every detail that she could and when she returned home, she would write down who the piece originally belonged to and where it went after it left the museum. Because of her tireless work, hundreds of paintings have been returned to their rightful heirs.

After one unfortunate Allied bombing in the Italian mountainside that missed all targets but almost completely leveled an ancient, world-renowned monastery, the Nazis issued propaganda that called the Allies destroyers of art. In response to that, the United States sent art experts into the front lines. Art professors and historians who had never been in the Army or seen combat before were now out in the middle of the action and their sole purpose was to take note of buildings and public statues that were not to be touched. They became known as the Monument Men and with minimal resources, they were able to save numerous buildings from utter destruction.

Many large museums across Europe attempted to evacuate their collections to be protected from pillaging and collateral damage but one of the most emotional moments in The Rape Of Europa was the evacuation of The Louvre. One of the most important pieces that needed to be transported out of the museum was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It was extremely difficult to move because it has been reconstructed over the years and it consists of hundreds of different pieces, all glued together. The amount of time and care that went into moving the Victory in the midst of war was remarkable. Knowing that these people risked their lives for a work of art is truly inspiring.

The Rape Of Europa has a few of wonderful stories but the majority of it shows just how awful Hitler and his Third Reich were to the people of Europe. And many of them were naive about their safety. Locals to Pisa, for example, thought there was no chance the war would reach them because they were home to the Camposanto and the Leaning Tower. Sadly, they were wrong and the Camposanto was demolished, and the melting lead roof coated all of the ancient frescoes.

Europa has many tragedies coupled with few triumphs, but such is the case when dealing with the history of WWII. However, it is an enlightening, touching story exhibiting true devotion and heroism. I recommend this highly to all.


Craig Kennedy said...

Nice review Justin. I haven't seen this one, but it sounds like I really should.

We hear about the human cost of WWII all the time, but not so much the cultural cost. We've all paid the price for war whether we're directly related to someone who died in it or not.

Yet, as you say there are rays of inspiration. A woman who in the midst of terrible tragedy has the presence of mind make such careful notes in an attempt to save as much as she can is pretty amazing. It's that kind of individual response that gives you hope.

Daniel G. said...

Thanks for the tip, I definitely want to see this ASAP. Might not get it in a theater, though.