Hitler's Capital

From November 1944, to April 1946, the author was Director of the Art Looting Investigation Unit, OSS, where he was directly responsible for recovering the works of art that had been looted by Rosenberg, Goring, and Hitler and hidden in Germany.

GÖRING, who considered himself a man from the Renaissance, needed rich possessions to dramatize his personality. Hitler's absorption with art, however, centered in his elaborate plans for the Austrian town in Linz, in the region where he was born. He invisaged Linz as the future seat of the new German Kultur, and lavished all his limited pictorial talent and architectural training on a vast project which would realize this ambition. Personal resentment toward the cosmopolitan milieu of Vienna, which symbolized the unhappy struggle of his formative years, burned as strongly within the Führer as the sentimental hankering after the places of his boyhood. He was determined that Linz should supplant Vienna as the Austrian capital, and that its new prominence should cement the Austro-German bond so vital to the salutary growth of National Socialism.

Until he was caught up in the maelstrom of a world war, Hitler devoted a disproportionate amount of time and energy, for a chief of state, to the plans for Linz, personally creating the architectural scheme for an imposing array of public buildings, and setting the formula for an art collection which was to specialize heavily in his beloved, mawkish German school of the nineteenth century. His private library, discovered by the American Army deep in Austria, contained scores of completed architectural renderings for the Linz project, of which the Führer-museum was to be a single edifice related to the whole, comprising a great library (with an initial quota of 250,000 volumes), a theater, and a separate collection of armor. German painting of the nineteenth century was to be assembled in such quantity that, should the need arise for a separate building to house the monumental collection, it could be integrated successfully with the master plan.

The Führer-museum, with a colonnaded façade about 500 feet long, the design paralleling that of the great Haus für Deutsche Kunst already erected in Munich, would stand on the site of the present Linz railroad station, which was to be moved four kilometers to the south. Roderich Fick, the official architect, made his drawings entirely from Hitler's personal prescriptions.

A bound volume of 75 pages, entitled The Future Economic Status of the City of Linz, also found in Hitler's library, spells out his dream for a modern industrial metropolis, with a greatly increased population and all the attributes with which lavish expenditure and city planning could endow the capital of his empire. The study was prepared at his direction by the Economic and Research Section, Oberdonau Department of the Interior.

Either through an early presentiment of guilt or as a tactical measure, Hitler ordered the Linz project, with all its ramifications, to be treated as a government secret. The idea that loot, as in the plans for Göring's Carinhall, was fundamental in the formation of the Linz Collection because clear to the project's personnel as early as October, 1939, when Dr. Hans Posse, Director of the Sonderauftrag (Special Commission), presented to Martin Bormann, for Hitler's approval, a list of 182 pictures which he had selected for Linz from the confiscated collections of the Viennese branch of the Rothschild family. In July, 1940, Posse was able to list 324 paintings already acquired for Linz, and every one of the 182 confiscated works previously recommended figured in the list.

On November 25, 1939, traveling under orders issued by Bormann, Posse arrived in Poland to examine for their interest to Linz the repositories of looted Polish art established at Warsaw and Cracow by Dr. Hans Frank's General Government. Three weeks later, he recommended formally to the Reich Chancellery that the world-famous Leonardo, Raphael, and Rembrandt paintings from the Czartoryski Collection be reserved for Linz. Though it was official doctrine that all Polish art works, in churches, museums, and private hands, were eligible for confiscation, the policy called also fro the retention of the booty in Poland. Hence, few Polish-owned masterpieces found their way into Germany. (The great Veit Stoss alter from Cracow. which was shipped to Nuremberg in a specially constructed van, and the lovely Bellotto paintings from Warsaw were notable exceptions.)

The chaotic internal situations wrought by subsequent military events has left undetermined the fate of much of the Polish treasure. The Czartoryski paintings desired by Posse never came to Linz, but they were recovered, as well as a group of 30 Dürer drawings which were at one time kept at the Führerhauptquartier in Berlin. These were the only notable "benefice" from Poland.

Two months after the invasion of Holland, Posse established an office at The Hague, appearing there in the role of Referent für Sonderfragen (Adviser on "Special Questions"). Belgium and Holland proved to be fertile ground. Posse's informers and middlemen, supported actively by the Seyss-Inquart government, were able to tap rich sources through confiscation and "purchase." The richest acquisitions of Linz in the Netherlands was the major portion of the Mannheimer Collection (purchased in 1944 for 2,000,000 gulden less than the Dutch authorities asked, following a Seyss-Inquart threat to confiscate the whole as enemy property). It contained such treasures as Rembrandt's Jewish Doctor. The remainder of the collection was acquired subsequently in France, also by forced sale.

In France, the Linz interest was fostered carefully by the special task force of Alfred Rosenberg (the Einsatzstab). On November 18, 1940, in a Fürherbefehl similar to the edicts issued after the conquest of Poland and Austria, Hitler proclaimed his right of disposition over all works of art confiscated in the occupied territories. From this moment on, Rosenberg worked formally in the Linz interest, except where Göring, as we have seen in "Loot for the Master Race" (September 1946), made his own selections in contradiction to the Hitler order. Göring, in fact, imposed his own schedule of priority on the French seizures, establishing three arbitrary categories of confiscation (presumably for the record, since his own choices were never opposed): first, those works destined for Hitler and Linz; second, those for the Göring Collection at Carinhall; third, those desired "for purposes of the National Socialist Party."

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In