On September 17, 1940, General Keitel, Commander in Chief of the Wehrmacht, directed the Chief of the German High Command in France to render all assistance to Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg in the confiscation of “ownerless Jewish possessions.” “Reichsleiter Rosenberg,” he stated, “has received clear instructions from the Fuhrer personally governing the right of seizure; he is entitled to transport to Germany cultural goods which appear valuable to him and to safeguard them there. The Führer has reserved for himself the right of decision as to their use.”
This decree by Keitel, published less than one hundred days after the Germans had overrun France, set in motion the most extensive and highly organized series of thefts devised by a nation in modern times: the wholesale seizure, by Rosenberg's special task force (Einsatzstab), of 203 French private collections captaining some 21,000 works of art. This was a carefully conceived operation, aimed at the cultural debilitation of the strongest of the fallen nations, since France's purest heritage lay in the hands of her enlightened collectors.
Supplementing Rosenberg's task force were the separate Hitler and Göring commissions, activated solely to enrich the holdings of these top Nazis with plunder from the occupied countries.
It was preordained by the official Nazi conscience that these depredations, in common with many of the more heinous crimes committed by the Party, should be cloaked by an elaborate, fictitious pretext of legality. A notable series of documents took shape through the war years, which afford us a broad vista of Nazi rationalization hard at work.
Perhaps the most illuminating of these apologias is the manifesto issued in August, 1942, by Dr. Bunjes, director of the “Franco-German Art Historical Institute” in Paris and Hermann Göring's first important art purchasing agent in France. The Bunjes paper followed upon Göring's personal request for an authoritative reply to the numerous official Vichy protests lodged with the German authorities on the subject of the ruthless and illegal plundering by the Einsatzstab Rosenberg.
Entitled “French Protests against the Safeguarding of Ownerless Jewish Art Properties in Occupied France,” the Bunjes report explained the measures taken, presented a detailed analysis of the French protests, and offered concrete proposals for refutation of the French argument. Bunjes averred that the real motive for the French protests was the desire of the government to deceive Germany and to further the prosecution of subversive activity against the Reich; that they were intended as systematic anti-German cultural propaganda and as a means of clouding the issue of the legitimate German claims for the return of cultural materials destroyed by French soldiers in Germany after 1918!
“These treasures,” wrote Bunjes, “if transferred into money values, could be made effective tomorrow against Germany in the form of tanks or planes . . . yet their return has not even been demanded by the Reich. The further French request for access by its government officials to those localities in France where German personnel are taking inventory of confiscated material would, if granted, simply invite French espionage.” [Italics mine.]
“Moreover,” he continued, “the affirmation of the Louvre that the French people would lose valuable national works of art through the aforementioned safeguardings is refuted by the fact that many of the safeguarded works stem from great masters of German origin or are under the influence of the German spirit.”
Finally, Bunjes reverted to the classic line, without which no National Socialist tract was valid: —
“All French arguments. . . are voided by the Führerbefehl [Hitler decree] of September 17, 1940, according to which all lawsuits regarding bequests, gifts, etc., are not recognized. . . . Only when these measures are completed and when the Führer has made the final decision as to the disposition of the safeguarded art treasures can the French government receive a final answer.”
It is of parenthetical interest that the Vichy government, whatever its more significant political conciliations, demonstrated courage and aptitude in bombarding the German High Command with communications designed to preserve the cultural heritage of France. The ultimate success of this policy is shown in the insignificant number of officially owned works of art which left the country in German hands.
Hermann Göring's lawyer at Nuremberg called him a Renaissance man, failing to mention that he wished to be one but never quite measured up. Because the Reichsmarschall was obsessed with the desire to become a latter-day Medici, the artistic domain of Europe became, of necessity, his playground. Photographs of Carinhall, his fabled estate laid waste in the Russian advance northeast of Berlin, point up dramatically the aspirations of the Number Two Nazi.
A gigantic, rambling structure compounded of ponderous stone and concrete, Carinhall was a strange fusion of the most flamboyant elements of the storied past with the inflated sterility of official Nazi architecture. Set down with a fine sense of isolation in the midst of a rich hunting preserve, it was destined, for a brief moment in history, to project with forceful grandeur the pose its master so studiously cultivated, of Reichsmarschall Göring, feudal seigneur, peerless huntsman, and enlightened patron of the arts.
A seemingly endless series of great rooms—salons, dining halls, studies, and libraries—held, until the Allied bombings threatened them, the spectacular booty of a continent, installed always with more theater than taste, yet breath-taking in its innate richness and its scope.
Here were the Cranachs and Titians, the massive plate, and the Gobelin tapestries brought in from France and Italy on a scale worthy of the great despot. Here, too, were the abominations of taste, the nineteenth century's overpowering, fleshy nudes, the ‘strength through joy” figures of Nazi sculptors, the empty furnishings of the Third Reich. And here were the rich birthday offerings, the coveted sixteenth-century German paintings purchased by Göring's agents with funds contributed by Nazi industrialists in return for favors rendered.
Showplace of the Reich, Carinhall was Göring, his sanctuary and his shrine, the perfect meeting ground of Rubens and the stuffed bull moose. Wearing the new crown of empire and with the spoils of Europe as its necklace, Carinhall would emerge after the German victory as a national shrine without parallel. Göring had even planned, with the Führer's consent, to build a special railway connecting the estate with Berlin, so that it might become the foremost mecca for tourists in the Reich.
Göring was the heart of German looting and its inspiration. Without his strength, his zeal, and his formidable backing, not a single one of the German organizations formed to carry out the prodigious task could have accomplished its mission.
The Allied investigations of German looting, proceeding from diverse points of view and in many directions, always happened, sooner or later, upon a common denominator: the intimate relationship of Göring to the problem. It became increasingly apparent that his tentacles stretched across Europe—east to Poland in the person of his agent, Mühlmann; south to Switzerland and Italy, where Hofer, “Curator of Carinhall,” and Angerer, dealer in tapestries and member of the German Intelligence, were tirelessly active in his behalf; west to France and Holland, where these men were joined by a host of others working directly or indirectly to swell the amazing body of the Reichsmarschall's loot.
Göring himself was a passionate and active collector. The evidence of his preoccupation throughout the war years with the formation of the Göring Collection, even at times when the very destiny of Germany was being shaped by his thinking, is astounding.
Whenever he visited Paris during the occupation, the notorious Baron Kurt von Behr, director of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg Paris office, would receive word forty-eight hours in advance that the Reichsmarschall intended to make a visit. By the time Göring arrived, a special exhibition of selected works of art, recently confiscated by the Einsatzstab from French collections, would have been arranged at the Musée du Jeu de Paume by von Behr's minions. Between November, 1940, and January, 1943, Göring visited the Jeu de Paume, for the express purpose of choosing new loot for Carinhall, no fewer than twenty-one times; he was there a week before the bombing of Coventry, three days before Pearl Harbor, and two weeks after the landings in Africa!
Following conferences of state at the Quai d'Orsay, he would summon Hofer or Lohse, his younger purchasing agent who doubled as deputy director of the Einsatzstab. Then the procession of “eligible” works for purchase would begin, and would often consume most of the day, for, after looking at the pictures brought in, he would frequently go out to visit the shops of dealers whom he favored.
His luxurious special train (later discovered by French and American troops at Berchtesgaden and used by Eisenhower) figured prominently in the formation of the Göring Collection. On the return trip to Germany following each of Göring's excursions to the occupied countries, it would carry back his most recent acquisitions—Einsatzstab loot from French collections, presents from collaborationist officials, and the Reichsmarschall's own “legitimate” purchases from the Paris dealers or the collectors of Brussels and Amsterdam, who were paid off handsomely in the unsupported paper occupation currency (Reichskassenscheine) printed in Germany.
His vicious penny-pinching tactics cast a strange light on Göring's longing to attain the stature of a grand seigneur. Lavish in his tastes to a degree unparalleled in our times, and with unlimited resources at his disposal, he was nonetheless disposed to bargain over every transaction and was slow in paying his bills. The practice distressed Göring's agents, who thought such bickering unworthy of his exalted position.
To be sure, the Reichsmarschall was scrupulously careful to maintain front, to be korrekt in his dealings. He would not permit a confiscated painting to be hung at Carinhall; he would not put personal pressure on an owner reluctant to part with an object; he would not accept thanks—in the form of valuable gifts—from Jews whom he had helped. By his own admission at Nuremberg, he made determined efforts to “pay” for the more than 700 looted masterpieces which he had received from the Rosenberg organization; and he was confident that his prodigious amassing of European treasures would be applauded by the peoples of the Axis. Had he not declared that Carinhall, with all its contents, was to become a national monument on his sixtieth birthday?
The dirty work was carried on by his agents. French Impressionist pictures, — splendid Renoirs and Cézannes and Van Goghs, — “ineligible” for hanging because they were “degenerate art,” were very useful for other purposes. Having cost Göring nothing, several hundred of them were exchanged in France and Switzerland for second-rate Cranachs and Holbeins which, as works of unblemished origin, could then grace the proud walls of Carinhall.
For Göring's account, Curator Hofer “accepted” cherished heirlooms from certain proud Jewish families in the Netherlands. In return, he provided funds far below the value of the offering, supplementing payment with an official German laissez passer or a Swiss passport, to be used by these benighted people in their flight from the Nazis!
Agent Lohse, writing to Göring's secretary, requested that he be “permitted to arrange for placing at my disposal by the Gestapo the two Jews, the Brothers L., for further work in the Reichsmarschall's interests.” Göring's secretary replied: “You are to make sure that this matter is handled so as to avoid having the Reichsmarschall's name mentioned in connection with Jews. If possible, handle it all under cover.”
Occasionally, when hard pressed, Göring showed his true colors, as in the case of a prominent Belgian whose collection he coveted. Göring wrote him personally in 1941 as follows: —
Mr. M. reported to me on the discussions he had with you concerning your collection of paintings, and informed me that you had again withdrawn from your earlier position and not yet arrived at a settlement. I have instructed M. to communicate with you again concerning the final terms. . . . Should you this time again not be able to decide, then I would be compelled to withdraw my offer, and things would go their normal way, without my being able to do anything to impede their course. [Italics mine.]
With German greetings, H. GÖRING
His proposals to “pay” the Einsatzstab Rosenberg were arrant subterfuge, as he was informed both by Alfred Rosenberg and by the Party Treasurer, Schwarz, that there was no machinery, no channel, no payee, in existence for such a transaction.
In sum, Göring resorted to every conceivable device to fill the walls and the coffers of Carinhall, bargaining, cheating, even invoking where necessary the prestige of German arms or the terrible threat of intervention by the Gestapo.
Whereas the basic directive of November 18, 1940, the potent Führerbefehl, reserved for the Chief of the Nazi State the formal right of disposition over all cultural goods confiscated from the occupied countries, Göring, capitalizing on Hitler's relative apathy in these matters, kept the bulk of the loot for himself.
Early in the occupation of France, the confiscation of valuable properties had become an issue of some magnitude in high Nazi circles. Largely at Göring's instigation, the German Embassy in Paris, the Foreign Currency Control Administration (Devisenschutzkommando), and the Alien Property Administration (Feindvermögenverwaltung) had made fruitful raids on the fabulous Rothschild holdings, which—as was the case with considerable portions of the country's private cultural treasure—were stored in the family's châteaux and its large Paris town houses, famous throughout France. Simultaneously, and consistently with their formal mandate, a small group of Nazi scholars attached to the Rosenberg office were combing the libraries and archives of the occupied countries in search of material for exploitation as propaganda in the “ideological struggle against Jewry and Freemasonry.”
The presence of the Rosenberg group in France appears to have suggested to Göring the means of formalizing the confiscation of art treasures which the other German agencies then engaged in this activity considered both distasteful and somewhat out of their line. In any case, a Göring order of November 5, 1940, issued in Paris, extended the authority of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg to include the “safeguarding of ownerless Jewish collections” and, indeed, altered the emphasis of the entire Rosenberg mission so as to make such undertakings its primary function. It is indicative of Göring's power that he could issue a directive affecting vitally the operations of an organization over which he had no formal administrative control.
Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg was in no position to carry out the Göring directive. He lacked political stature in the Party hierarchy sufficient to procure the trained personnel, the transportation, and the other elements essential to effective implementation of the program, in the light of the heavy concurrent demands of the combatant military and the forces of occupation. He was handicapped seriously by the disdain of the High Command and its unwillingness to coöperate with his agency in the planning and execution of the depredations; a bitter personal feud with Martin Bormann,moreover, had precluded his recourse to Hitler in any crisis. Most important, Rosenberg himself was not keen on the confiscations.
He regarded the Einsatzstab as a bastard offspring and its program as incompatible with the aims of the Party bureau for National Socialist political indoctrination (the Amt Rosenberg). In his view, the Rosenberg office was not simply a headquarters for raiding parties. Several of his deputies emphasized, under interrogation, that Rosenberg chafed at the problems attendant to the looting operations, that he had no interest in art and sought no personal gain from the seizures.
Without support from Berlin, the Einsatzstab was virtually paralyzed. Without experts to separate the wheat from the chaff and without the means to ship the loot to Germany, the “safeguardings” would have become an empty, and politically dangerous, gesture. Therefore von Behr appealed “out of channels” to Göring, who responded handsomely in his capacity as commander of the Luftwaffe, ordering art historians in the German Air Force transferred to duty in Paris, supplying shippers, photographers, packers, and drivers from the ranks, and putting Luftwaffe motor transport, freight cars, even special cargo planes, at von Behr's disposal.
From top to bottom the Einsatzstab became a Göring show under the Rosenberg flag. It is not remarkable that Göring was unopposed in his selection of the choicest confiscated items, despite the Hitler order prescribing retention of all material pending the Führer's decision as to disposal.
Aided by Göring's largesse, and under Baron von Behr's determined leadership, the Einsatzstab Rosenberg evolved swiftly into a well-oiled machine for the systematic plunder of France. The operations were remarkably simple. Since, under the prevailing code, any non-Aryan property was fair game, and since a striking proportion of the good works of art privately held in France were in the large and well-known Jewish collections, the field was fertile and the pickings easy. To be sure, most of the property owners had taken flight before the Nazis and were hiding out in the country, or in unoccupied France, or abroad. In many instances, their collections had gone underground with them, so that von Behr's hirelings had to ferret them out. Unortunately, there was no dearth of collaborationist indicateurs, ever ready to sell their information, and themselves, to the German intelligence services. Von Behr had free access to the files of the French collaborationist police force, the Gestapo, and the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst), and worked so closely with these organizations that their representatives usually accompanied Einsatzstab personnel on house raids.
The Musée du Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries became the focal point of German looting activity in France. Taken over by von Behr complete with its French staff—including the Director, Mlle. Rose Valland, who observed the proceedings closely and who today, as a captain in the French WAC, is a key figure in her government's restitution proceedings—it was turned into a collecting point for the “safeguarded” material. Here, once a collection had been brought in by van from its place of origin, the Einsatzstab “scholars” took over, authenticating, cataloguing, inventorying, and photographing every object. All the painstaking thoroughness of the German method was lavished on the job, with the neat result that the Einsatzstab files were discovered intact at its headquarters in Germany after the American break-through, and the vast complications of Allied restitution procedure were immeasurably simplified.
The German art historians attached to the Einsatzstab complained to von Behr that none of their group was permitted to accompany the raiding parties, which were being conducted by “irresponsible non-professionals.” The basis of their protest was that the loot was coming in too swiftly to permit scholarly and orderly examination of the material, and that no “selective process” was taking place at the source. They were, in fact, being overwhelmed by the flow of incoming material, and the cataloguing was falling behind.
One of the art historians admitted under interrogation that, by mid-November, 1940, virtually the entire contents of the several Rothschild Collections, totaling 5009 objects; the Alfonse Kann Collection, comprising 1202 objects; and those of Weil-Picard, with 123, and Wildenstein, with 302, were already in hand. Dr. Robert Scholz, the Berlin director of all Einsatzstab administration, stated categorically that the great majority of works of art seized in the entire course of Einsatzstab operations—which lasted, technically, from September, 1940, until the fall of Paris in August, 1944—were already in the Jeu de Paume when he arrived there early in 1941. This is vivid evidence of the swiftness with which the task force worked.
Several great collections, and many others of real consequence, were confiscated later, but the initial seizures came hard on the heels of the German military victory in France, and at the moment when German prestige, largely because of the fear and chaos which it inspired, was at its highest. Moreover, the strategy laid down for the confiscations called for the early seizure of the great—and the obvious—concentrations; these constituted, both numerically and qualitatively, the most important “take” of the Einsatzstab. A summary of the confiscations, presented by Dr. Scholz to Rosenberg in July, 1944, furnishes the following analysis of “objects counted and inventoried”: —
Paintings 10, 890 Sculptures 583 Furniture 2,477 Textiles 583 Objets d'art (porcelain, glass, jewelry, coins,
miscellaneous small objects)
5,825 Objects of classical antiquity, Oriental art 1,545
From the 21,903 recorded confiscations, approximately 700 paintings of good quality were earmarked for Göring—by the Reichsmarschall personally or by Lohse and Hofer. Since Hitler had formal claim to everything seized by the Einsatzstab, there was no occasion to single out objects for his personal retention. However, an outstanding group of 53 paintings and tapestries confiscated at the very outset (1940) from the Rothschild and Seligmann Collections, and chosen by Göring for the Führermuseum at Linz, were placed immediately aboard his special train and taken to Munich for safekeeping. (This appears to have been the only time Göring helped the Führer.) Most of the works were still packed in their original Rothschild cases. Among them were the celebrated Vermeer Astronomer, the Rubens Portrait of Helène Fourment, a series of magnificent Gobelin tapestries, and some of the incomparable French paintings of the eighteenth century—including the Boucher Madame Pompadour—for which the Rothschild Collections are chiefly esteemed.
There were no further detailed selections made in the Hitler or Linz interest. Periodically, as significant new material “became available,” elaborate leather-bound volumes of photographs were prepared by the Einsatzstab staff and transmitted to the Reich Chancery to keep the Führer informed and, according to Dr. Scholz, to “dramatize the scope of the undertaking.” Nearly one hundred such volumes were prepared in the course of the operation.
With the exception of the Göring and Hitler selections, the entire complex of documented Einsatzstab loot remained intact. Whereas individuals attached to the organization are believed to have engaged in some petty traffic in the Paris art market, no German official buyer or museum director had access to the confiscated material.
Shipments to Germany were obstructed, in spite of Göring's help, by a severe shortage of adequate rolling stock. For the first and most important transfer (in April, 1941) 30 special baggage cars—of the heated type normally attached to de luxe passenger trains—were requisitioned from every corner of the Reich. The train carried the choicest items from the Rothschild, Seligmann, Wildenstein, and David-Weill Collections to the principal Einsatzstab repository, set up at Schloss Neuschwanstein, the castle of the mad King Ludwig which nestles in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. A special Luftwaffe detachment rode the train as armed guard, and the material was three days in transit.
A second major shipment, comprising 28 carloads, took place in October, 1941. Thereafter, partly because of the inordinate difficulties of transport, partly because the most valuable pieces had already been transferred to Germany, the loot was brought in piecemeal, and placed—through the end of 1943—in the six special Einsatzstab depots—at Neuschwanstein, Nickolsburg, Chiemsee, Buxheim, Kogl, and Seisenegg.
For the operations in France alone, the Rosenberg office marshaled a staff of sixty “imported” German specialists—art historians and museum workers, librarians, archivists, photographers—and secretaries. Though in every sense a civilian unit, the Einsatzstab worked in a strict military environment, even wearing a uniform which caused no little confusion among the terror-stricken French hangers-on because of its paradoxical resemblance to that of the SS. The parade-ground atmosphere of the organization was inspired, according to all sources, by von Behr's obsession with militaristic panoply.
The Einsatzstab Rosenberg was but one of the many channels of illicit acquisition used by Göring. Other loot entered Carinhall from Italy and Poland, through the offices of the SS and the Werhmacht; from France, through the German Embassy and the Military High Command; and from Belgium and Holland, through the freezing of “enemy assets” by the Foreign Currency Control Administration. As nearly as can be estimated, approximately 50 per cent of the objects which made up the Göring Collection were acquired through purchase or forced sale. The remainder was outright loot.
The question of Göring's personal taste becomes peculiarly interesting in the light of his consistently fervent “collector's” passion for acquisition. On the basis of first-hand examination of the contents of Carinhall—viewed, to be sure, in the unflattering light of the barren, crowded schoolhouse at Berchtesgaden which became its last resting place—it may be said that his taste was both positive and appallingly bad.
In the first place, important extraneous factors, such as the Nazi cultural ideology, which placed the works of the old German masters at the top of the ladder and banned arbitrarily the “degenerate” products of the French Impressionist painters, frequently nullified aesthetic judgments which might otherwise have been controlling.
The formidable scale of Carinhall, together with Göring's own lusty appetites and his penchant for the big thing, made the robust compositions of Rubens and other inferior but lively representations of the ample Teutonic female nude the natural targets for his agents. The nude, in fact, is the leitmotif of the collection. It may be seen in a hundred different variants, from the fragile, symbolic figures of Cranach to the more vulgar and earthy creatures of Makart, a grandiose German mediocrity who was Göring's favorite nineteenth-century master. Often suggestive, these examples are, curiously enough, rarely obscene.
The Reichsmarschall's excessive enthusiasm for early German painting led him to acquire well over fifty pictures attributed to Cranach. In their almost universal failure to measure up to the minimum standards which prompt unbiased scholars to ascribe works to the great sixteenth-century German, these paintings reveal Göring's inadequacies as a collector.
Göring bought badly. Often he paid large prices for works of inferior quality, not infrequently for forgeries. His most spectacular boomerang was the “Vermeer” Christ and the Adulteress. After lengthy and arduous negotiations involving a Dutch syndicate which wished to retain it in Holland, Göring emerged triumphant, acquiring the picture; in exchange for I50 paintings in his possession with an aggregate value of 1,600,000 Dutch gulden. In 1945 the painting was exposed as one of a group of spurious Vermeers, the handiwork of a Dutch forger named Van Meegeren, who made a full confession and was sent to prison.
Hofer, Göring's chief agent and curator, stated under interrogation that Göring had no artistic judgment and knew it, but that whenever his advisers took issue with him in public, he would override them. The facts that his own taste so often prevailed, and that he was not blessed with the most competent advice, gave the collection its flamboyant character and its curiously low level of quality.
What of the men around Göring, the satellites who carried out the Reichsmarschall's bidding? In the months after V-E Day, their American captors came to know some of them well—questioned them, talked to them, watched them. At the modest summer house in the mountains of the Salzkammergut where they had been rounded up for intensive interrogation, they were observed at close hand for weeks on end as the whole fantastic story of Nazi looting was gradually unfolded. A singularly diverse group, they had—apart from a mutual interest in art and in Göring—virtually nothing in common.
Curator Walter Andreas Hofer, short, red-haired, and beady-eyed, was a product of the hard, Berlin school of urbanity. In the early twenties he had been a salesman in the art firm of his brother-in-law, a Jew, whom he superseded quickly in Nazi patronage after 1933. Initially, he merely offered pictures for sale to Göring, but the relationship strengthened, and in 1957 he replaced a well-kcuown expert as the Reichsmarschall's adviser in art matters.
Hofer played his master shrewdly. He insisted on maintaining his independent dealer status even after being appointed director of the Göring Collection. Refusing a salary, he worked wholly on commission and, as Göring's official buyer, brought to bear the manifold advantages of power and backing which his position implied. The flexibility of this arrangement permitted him to keep for himself anything which Göring did not want for the collection, a factor which gave him an incalculable advantage over his business competitors, in view of the vast scope of his sources. He had facilities for travel, for foreign exchange, and for promising “official protection” to certain select victims of Nazi persecution, in return for which he received purchase rights to their works of art. Göring insisted that Hofer rule on every painting acquired for the collection, another obvious discriminatory weapon which he did not hesitate to use against his colleagues.
Hofer traveled incessantly throughout the war, always preceding Göring on excursions to the occupied countries and preparing the scene for the regal descent into the art markets. Often he went alone, reporting constantly on his “finds” to his chief by telephone or letter. The documentation reveals that Hofer took the lead at all times in determining the choice of objects, the methods of bargaining, and the nature of “payment.” Consistently with the Nazi code of ethics, Hofer even cheated Göring. Often he falsified bills and receipts, working against Göring's interests in collusion with other agents.
Just after V-E Day, Walter Andreas Hofer put in a jaunty appearance at Berchtesgaden, proudly exhibited the Göring Collection to ranking American officers, and posed for Life. Today, much chastened, he is behind bars at Nuremberg.
Aloys Miedl, long-time friend of Göring and Heinrich Hoffmann, left Germany some time before the war because his wife was a Jewess. This stocky Bavarian was an ardent mountain climber. His other ruling passion was speculation, in everything from Rembrandts to Canadian timber. A shrewd financier, he negotiated the sale of the celebrated Goudstikker Collection of Amsterdam for Göring, and is even said to have tried at one time to purchase the island of Anticosti in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for a German syndicate. Miedl played a game of duplicity for many years, possibly to protect his family, more likely for personal gain. He is believed to be awaiting repatriation from Spain to Germany, whence he will doubtless be taken to Holland to answer serious charges by the Dutch government.
Kurt von Behr, the autocratic chief of the Einsatzstab Paris office, universally regarded today as the person most responsible for the organized looting of France, gave dramatic evidence of awareness of his own guilt by committing suicide at Schloss Bans at the instant of its investiture by the American forces. When the proud Baron was found, he was seated next to his wife, an aristocratic Englishwoman, in the library of a family estate. A few minutes before, the Baron and his lady had toasted each other in poisoned champagne, delicately writing finis to an extraordinary career.
Von Behr was the black sheep of an old Mecklenburg family. Between the wars he served as adjutant to the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and held a minor diplomatic post in Italy, which he was obliged to relinquish when his name cropped up in an insurance scandal. In 1940 von Behr rejoined Saxe-Coburg, now a distinguished old gentleman and head of the German Red Cross, and was sent to France. Through Göring, he was appointed director of the Einsatzstab Paris office, a position which he held while discharging certain nebulous duties with the Red Cross.
Intensely vain, von Behr always wore elaborate uniforms though he remained a civilian. He treated the professional members of his staff patronizingly and drove them hard. He resorted to any practice calculated to bring in objects of value, traded actively on the side, and used the wherewithal to court the favor of Germans in high places with lavish gifts and entertainment. While the German High Command found him pompous and rather ridiculous, von Behr nevertheless became a central figure in occupation society. He is said to have had a table reserved at Maxim's every evening for two years, and to have entertained generals and diplomats, artists, and U-boat officers or fliers on triumphal leave.
In 1942 he came to Göring's birthday party in Berlin, bringing as a proud offering the original copy of the Versailles peace treaty and a manuscript letter from Richard Wagner to Napoleon III. These were presented to the Reichsmarschall appropriately in the name of the Einsatzstab, which had, of course, simply confiscated them in France for the occasion.
Other members of the Göring entourage were less venal. Young Bruno Lohse, tall, athletic, and Prussian, was a serious art student, a convinced Nazi, and a dreamer. Struck by his attractive manner and his sincerity, Göring had singled him out from von Behr's staff and made him deputy director and his personal agent. Much of the French wrath over the indignities of the Einsatzstab is visited, justifiably, on Lohse, who, in his National Socialist zeal and his worship of Göring, organized and dominated important looting operations, convinced that in so doing he was serving his state and his chief with real nobility.
The same kind of idolatry had always inspired Gisela Limberger, Göring's faithful, intelligent private secretary. So apt was the master of Carinhall in concealing his true nature from his followers that Fraulein Limberger, Lohse, and several others, on being shown the documentary evidence of Göring's crimes, his deceits, and his inherent cheapness, actually became despondent and irreconcilable in their personal disillusion.
Göring left his ugly mark on European culture by the ruthless pursuit of foreign treasure to adorn a monstrous vanity. With Hitler, as we shall see, the motive for plunder was different—less personal, less selfish, yet wholly in keeping with the Führer's peculiarities.