Film Highlight: The Rape of Europa

Heinrich Himmler presents a painting to Hitler as a birthday gift, April 1939
National Archives and Records Administration

Edina Cinema, starts Friday

Aside from being responsible for the Holocaust and the destruction of many European countries, Adolf Hitler sought to kill cultural identity while fueling his twisted love of art; he, along with many other Nazi leaders, looted thousands of historic treasures from across the continent. This fascinating documentary is based on the like-titled book by Lynn Nicholas and presents a detailed portrait of how culture was actually a key front in World War II. The film describes the heroic efforts by museum staff at the Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in Leningrad, and the Uffizi in Florence to evacuate, conceal, and save priceless works of art. During this same period, Hitler imagined his imperial city in Linz, Austria, where he hoped to display the art stolen by the Nazis while deporting the Jews to death camps and annexing neighboring countries. Later, the film discusses efforts by the U.S. Army to help preserve some of the treasures, especially in Italy, even as the bombs were still falling, and it details the conflicts surrounding the protection of culture versus human life, all under the fog of war. The Rape of Europa is a rich and detailed history lesson, filled with dramatic footage of empty museums and warehouses stuffed with piles of paintings by some of the great masters. Of course, the loss of human life is the biggest tragedy in war. But when the guns finally fall silent and the reconstruction begins, a society left without its cultural touchstones suffers all the more.

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