How the Over-engineering of Weapons Caused Problems for the Nazis in World War Two

How the Over-engineering of Weapons Caused Problems for the Nazis in World War Two

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A German Waffen-SS soldier carries an MG 42 configured as a light support weapon during heavy fighting in and around the French town of Caen in mid-1944. Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1983-109-14A / Woscidlo, Wilfried / CC-BY-SA 3.0

This article is an edited transcript of World War Two: A Forgotten Narrative with James Holland available on Our Site TV.

Dan sits down with renowned World War Two historian James Holland to discuss the forgotten, yet critically-important logistical and operational history of World War Two.

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The rather brilliant Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) John Starling runs the amazing Small Arms Unit at Shrivenham, the staff college just outside Swindon. He has got an amazing archive of small arms, everything from Black Bessies to more contemporary weapons. And amongst it all is an incredible arsenal of World War Two stuff: machine guns, submachine guns, rifles, you name it.

The MG 42 machine gun

I went to visit John and we were going through all this stuff when I saw an MG 42 – what Tommies (British private soldiers) used to call a “Spandau”. It was the most infamous machine gun of the Second World War and I said, “That’s obviously the best small arms weapon of World War Two”, which was something that I’d read in a book.

The MG 42 doesn’t necessarily live up to its reputation.

John just went, “Says who? Says who?”

And in the next five minutes completely deconstructed why the MG 42 wasn’t necessarily the best weapon at all. For starters, it was incredibly over-engineered and expensive to make.

It had this incredible rate of fire, but it also had all sorts of problems: too much smoke, barrels overheating and no handle on the barrel so the user had to kind of flip it open when it was really, really hot.

Each machine gun crew also had to carry around six spare barrels and the gun was really heavy and got through loads of ammunition. So it was great in the initial combat, but came with all sorts of problems.

Odette Sansom, was the most highly decorated woman, and the most decorated spy of any gender during World War II. She was awarded both the George Cross and was appointed a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. Her wartime exploits and later imprisonment by the Nazis made her one of the most celebrated members of the Special Operations Executive, the British sabotage and espionage organisation.

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And I just said, “Oh my God.” I had absolutely no idea about any of that; it was just a completely revelatory moment. And I thought, “Wow, that is really, really fascinating.” So I then went away and did lots more research into the over-engineering of weapons in World War Two.

The Tiger tank

Another example of German over-engineering is the Tiger tank. While the Allies’ Sherman tank had a four-speed manual gearbox, the Tiger had a hydraulically controlled, semi-automatic, six-speed, three-selector gearbox designed by Ferdinand Porsche. If it sounds unbelievably complicated, it was.

And if you were an 18-year-old recruit from Germany and put in one of those things, the chances were that you were going to mash it up, which is exactly what happened.

A Tiger I tank in the north of France. Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1805-16 / Scheck / CC-BY-SA 3.0

One of the reasons you were going to mash it up was because Germany was one of the least automotive societies in the West during World War Two. It’s a total fallacy that Nazi Germany was this sort of huge mechanised military moloch; it wasn’t.

Only the tip of the spear was mechanised, while the rest of the army, that vast army, was getting about from A to B on its own two feet and with the use of horses.

So, if you’re not a very automated society, that means you don’t have a lot of people making vehicles. And if you don’t have a lot of people making vehicles, you don’t have a lot of garages, you don’t have a lot of mechanics, you don’t have a lot of petrol stations and you don’t have a lot of people who know how to drive them.

Frank McDonough, world leading expert on the domestic side of Hitler's Germany, explains why and how Hitler was able to establish and sustain his rule within Germany.

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So if recruits get put into a Tiger tank then it’s a problem because it’s just too difficult for them to drive and they ruin it.

Mexican Involvement in World War II

Everyone knows the World War II Allied Powers: the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand. and Mexico?

That's right, Mexico. In May 1942, the United States of Mexico declared war on the Axis alliance. They even saw some combat: a Mexican fighter squad fought valiantly in the South Pacific in 1945. But their importance to the Allied effort was much greater than a handful of pilots and airplanes.


Adolf Hitler was an unsuccessful artist who was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Nonetheless, he thought of himself as a connoisseur of the arts, and in Mein Kampf he ferociously attacked modern art as degenerate, including Cubism, Futurism, and Dadaism, all of which he considered the product of a decadent twentieth century society. In 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, he enforced his aesthetic ideal on the nation. The types of art that were favored amongst the Nazi party were classical portraits and landscapes by Old Masters, particularly those of Germanic origin. Modern art that did not match this was dubbed degenerate art by the Third Reich and all that was found in Germany's state museums was to be sold or destroyed. [1] With the sums raised, the Führer's objective was to establish the European Art Museum in Linz. Other Nazi dignitaries, like Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Foreign Affairs minister von Ribbentrop, were also intent on taking advantage of German military conquests to increase their private art collections. [1]

Art dealers Hildebrand Gurlitt, Karl Buchholz, Ferdinand Moeller and Bernhard Boehmer set up shop in Schloss Niederschonhausen, just outside Berlin, to sell a cache of near-16,000 paintings and sculptures which Hitler and Göring removed from the walls of German museums in 1937–38. They were first put on display in the Haus der Kunst in Munich on 19 July 1937, with the Nazi leaders inviting public mockery by two million visitors who came to view the condemned modern art in the Degenerate Art Exhibition. Propagandist Joseph Goebbels in a radio broadcast called Germany's degenerate artists "garbage". Hitler opened the Haus der Kunst exhibition with a speech. In it he described German art as suffering "a great and fatal illness".

Hildebrand Gurlitt and his colleagues did not have much success with their sales, mainly because art labelled "rubbish" had small appeal. So on 20 March 1939, they set fire to 1,004 paintings and sculptures and 3,825 watercolours, drawings and prints in the courtyard of the Berlin Fire Department, an act of infamy similar to their earlier well-known book burnings. The propaganda act raised the attention they hoped. The Basel Museum in Switzerland arrived with 50,000 Swiss francs to spend. Shocked art lovers came to buy. What is unknown after these sales is the number of paintings kept by Gurlitt, Buchholz, Moeller, Boehmer and later sold by them to Switzerland and America – ships crossed the Atlantic from Lisbon – for personal gain. [2]

The most infamous auction of Nazi looted art was the “degenerate art” auction organized by Theodor Fischer on 30 June 1939 at the Grand Hotel National in Lucerne, Switzerland. The artworks on offer had been "de-accessioned" from German museums by the Nazis, yet many well known art dealers participated alongside proxies for major collectors and museums. [3] Public auctions were only the visible tip of the iceberg, as many sales operated by art dealers were private. The Commission for Art Recovery has characterized Switzerland as "a magnet" for assets from the rise of Hitler until the end of World War II. [4] Researching and documenting Switzerland's role "as an art-dealing centre and conduit for cultural assets in the Nazi period and in the immediate post-war period" was one of the missions of the Bergier Commission, under the directorship of Professor Georg Kreis. [5]

While the Nazis were in power, they plundered cultural property from Germany and from every territory they occupied, targeting Jewish property in particular. [6] This was conducted in a systematic manner with organizations specifically created to determine which public and private collections were most valuable to the Nazi Regime. Some of the objects were earmarked for Hitler's never realized Führermuseum, some objects went to other high-ranking officials such as Hermann Göring, while other objects were traded to fund Nazi activities.

In 1940, an organization is known as the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die Besetzten Gebiete (The Reichsleiter Rosenberg Institute for the Occupied Territories), or ERR, was formed, headed for Alfred Rosenberg by Gerhard Utikal [de] . The first operating unit, the western branch for France, Belgium and the Netherlands, called the Dienststelle Westen (Western Agency), was located in Paris. The chief of this Dienststelle was Kurt von Behr. Its original purpose was to collect Jewish and Freemasonic books and documents, either for destruction or for removal to Germany for further "study". However, late in 1940, Hermann Göring, who in fact controlled the ERR, issued an order that effectively changed the mission of the ERR, mandating it to seize "Jewish" art collections and other objects. The war loot had to be collected in a central place in Paris, the Museum Jeu de Paume. At this collection point worked art historians and other personnel who inventoried the loot before sending it to Germany. Göring also commanded that the loot would first be divided between Hitler and himself. Hitler later ordered that all confiscated works of art were to be made directly available to him. From the end of 1940 to the end of 1942 Göring traveled twenty times to Paris. In the Museum Jeu de Paume, art dealer Bruno Lohse staged 20 expositions of the newly looted art objects, especially for Göring, from which Göring selected at least 594 pieces for his own collection. [7] Göring made Lohse his liaison-officer and installed him in the ERR in March 1941 as the deputy leader of this unit. Items which Hitler and Göring did not want were made available to other Nazi leaders. Under Rosenberg and Göring's leadership, the ERR seized 21,903 art objects from German-occupied countries. [8]

Other Nazi looting organizations included the Sonderauftrag Linz [de] , the organization run by the art historian Hans Posse, which was particularly in charge of assembling the works for the Führermuseum, the Dienststelle Mühlmann, operated by Kajetan Mühlmann, which Göring also controlled [ citation needed ] and operated primarily in the Netherlands, Belgium, and a Sonderkommando Kuensberg connected to the minister of foreign affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop, which operated first in France, then in Russia and North Africa. In Western Europe, with the advancing German troops, were elements of the 'von Ribbentrop Battalion', named after Joachim von Ribbentrop. These men were responsible for entering private and institutional libraries in the occupied countries and removing any materials of interest to the Germans, especially items of scientific, technical or other informational value. [9]

Art collections from prominent Jewish families, including the Rothschilds, the Rosenbergs, the Wildensteins [10] and the Schloss Family were the targets of confiscations because of their significant value. Also, Jewish art dealers sold art to German organizations – often under duress, e.g. the art dealerships of Jacques Goudstikker, Benjamin and Nathan Katz [11] and Kurt Walter Bachstitz. Also non-Jewish art dealers sold art to the Germans, e.g. the art dealers De Boer [12] and Hoogendijk [13] in the Netherlands.

By the end of the war, the Third Reich amassed hundreds of thousands of cultural objects.

On November 21, 1944, at the request of Owen Roberts, William J. Donovan created the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) within the OSS to collect information on the looting, confiscation and transfer of cultural objects by Nazi Germany, its allies and the various individuals and organizations involved to prosecute war criminals and to restitute property. [14] [15] The ALIU compiled information on individuals believed to have participated in art looting, identifying a group of key suspects for capture and interrogation about their roles in carrying out Nazi policy. Interrogations were conducted in Bad Aussee, Austria.

Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) reports and index Edit

The ALIU Reports detail the networks of Nazi officials, art dealers and individuals involved in the Hitler's policy of spoliation of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. [16] The ALIU's final report included 175 pages divided into three parts: Detailed Interrogation Reports (DIRs), which focused individuals who played pivotal roles in German spoliation. Consolidated Interrogations Reports (CIRs), and a "Red Flag list" of people involved in Nazi spoliation. [14] The ALIU Reports form one of the key records in the US Government Archives of Nazi Era Assets [17]

Detailed Intelligence Reports (DIR) Edit

The first group of reports detailing the networks and relations between art dealers and other agents employed by Hitler, Göring and Rosenberg are organized by name: Heinrich Hoffmann, Ernst Buchner, Gustav Rochlitz, Gunter Schiedlausky, Bruno Lohse, Gisela Limberger, Walter Andreas Hofer, Karl Kress, Walter Bornheim, Hermann Voss and Karl Haberstock. [15] [18]

Consolidated Interrogation Reports (CIR) Edit

A second set of reports detail the art looting activities of Göring (The Goering Collection), the art looting activities of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), and Hitler's Linz Museum.

ALIU List of Red Flag Names Edit

The Art Looting Intelligence Unit published a list of "Red Flag Names", organizing them by country: Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, and Luxembourg. Each name is followed by a description of the person's activities, their relations with other people in the spoliation network and, in many cases, information concerning their arrest or imprisonment by Allied forces. [15] [19]

To investigate and estimate Nazi plunder in the USSR during 1941 through 1945, the Soviet State Extraordinary Commission for Ascertaining and Investigating the Crimes Committed by the German-Fascist Invaders and Their Accomplices was formed on 2 November 1942. During the Great Patriotic War and afterwards, until 1991, the Commission collected materials on Nazi crimes in the USSR, including incidents of plunder. Immediately following the war, the Commission outlined damage in detail to sixty-four of the most valuable Soviet museums, out of 427 damaged ones. In the Russian SFSR, 173 museums were found to have been plundered by the Nazis, with looted items numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

After the dissolution of the USSR, the Government of the Russian Federation formed the State Commission for the Restitution of Cultural Valuables to replace the Soviet Commission. Experts from this Russian institution originally consulted the work of the Soviet Commission, yet continue to catalogue artworks lost during the war museum by museum. As of 2008 [update] , lost artworks of 14 museums and the libraries of Voronezh Oblast, Kursk Oblast, Pskov Oblast, Rostov Oblast, Smolensk Oblast, Northern Caucasus, Gatchina, Peterhof Palace, Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), Novgorod and Novgorod Oblast, as well as the bodies of the Russian State Archives and CPSU Archives, were catalogued in 15 volumes, all of which were made available online. They contain detailed information on 1,148,908 items of lost artworks. The total number of lost items is unknown so far, because cataloguing work for other damaged Russian museums is ongoing. [20]

Alfred Rosenberg commanded the so-called Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg [ERR] für die Besetzten Gebiete, which was responsible for collecting art, books, and cultural objects from invaded countries, and also transferred their captured library collections back to Berlin during the retreat from Russia. "In their search for 'research materials' ERR teams and the Wehrmacht visited 375 archival institutions, 402 museums, 531 institutes, and 957 libraries in Eastern Europe alone". [21] The ERR also operated in the early days of the blitzkrieg of the Low Countries. This caused some confusion about authority, priority, and the chain of command among the German Army, the von Rippentropp Battalion and the Gestapo, and as a result of personal looting among the Army officers and troops. These ERR teams were, however, very effective. One account estimates that from the Soviet Union alone: "one hundred thousand geographical maps were taken on ideological grounds, for academic research, as means for political, geographical and economic information on Soviet cities and regions, or as collector's items". [21]

After the occupation of Poland by German forces in September 1939, the Nazi regime attempted to exterminate its upper classes as well as its culture. [22] Thousands of art objects were looted, as the Nazis systematically carried out a plan of looting prepared even before the start of hostilities. 25 museums and many other facilities were destroyed. [23] The total cost of German Nazi theft and destruction of Polish art is estimated at 20 billion dollars, or an estimated 43% of Polish cultural heritage over 516,000 individual art pieces were looted, including 2,800 paintings by European painters 11,000 paintings by Polish painters 1,400 sculptures 75,000 manuscripts 25,000 maps 90,000 books, including over 20,000 printed before 1800 and hundreds of thousands of other items of artistic and historical value. Germany still has much Polish material looted during World War II. For decades there have been mostly futile negotiations between Poland and Germany concerning the return of the looted property. [24]

The Anschluss (joining) of Austria and Germany began on March 12, 1938. Churches, monasteries, museums were home to many pieces of art before the Nazis came but after, the majority of the artwork was taken. Ringstrasse, which was a residence for many people but as well as a community center, was confiscated and all of the art inside as well. [25] Between the years 1943 and 1945, salt mines in Altaussee held the majority of Nazi looted art. Some from Austria and others from all around Europe. In 1944, around 4,700 pieces of art were then stored in the salt mines.

After Hitler became Chancellor, he made plans to transform his home city of Linz, Austria into the Third Reich's capital city for the arts. Hitler hired architects to work from his own designs to build several galleries and museums, which would collectively be known as the Führermuseum. Hitler wanted to fill his museum with the greatest art treasures in the world, and believed that most of the world's finest art belonged to Germany after having been looted during the Napoleonic and First World wars.

The Hermann Göring collection, a personal collection of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, was another large collection including confiscated property, consisted of approximately 50 percent of works of art confiscated from the enemies of the Reich. [26] Assembled in large measure by art dealer Bruno Lohse, Göring's adviser and ERR representative in Paris, in 1945 the collection included over 2,000 individual pieces including more than 300 paintings. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration's Consolidated Interrogation Report No. 2 states that Göring never crudely looted, instead he always managed "to find a way of giving at least the appearance of honesty, by a token payment or promise thereof to the confiscation authorities. Although he and his agents never had an official connection with the German confiscation organizations, they nevertheless used them to the fullest extent possible." [26]

The Third Reich amassed hundreds of thousands of objects from occupied nations and stored them in several key locations, such as Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Nazi headquarters in Munich. As the Allied forces gained advantage in the war and bombed Germany's cities and historic institutions, Germany "began storing the artworks in salt mines and caves for protection from Allied bombing raids. These mines and caves offered the appropriate humidity and temperature conditions for artworks." [27] Well known repositories of this kind were mines in Merkers, Altaussee and Siegen. These mines were not only used for the storage of looted art but also of art that had been in Germany and Austria before the beginning of the Nazi rule. [28] Degenerate art was legally banned by the Nazis from entering Germany, and so ones designated were held in what was called the Martyr's Room at the Jeu de Paume. Much of Paul Rosenberg's professional dealership and personal collection were so subsequently designated by the Nazis. Following Joseph Goebels earlier private decree to sell these degenerate works for foreign currency to fund the building of the Führermuseum and the wider war effort, Hermann Göring personally appointed a series of ERR approved dealers to liquidate these assets and then pass the funds to swell his personal art collection, including Hildebrand Gurlitt. With the looted degenerate art sold onwards via Switzerland, Rosenberg's collection was scattered across Europe. Today, some 70 of his paintings are missing, including: the large Picasso watercolor Naked Woman on the Beach, painted in Provence in 1923 seven works by Matisse and the Portrait of Gabrielle Diot by Degas. [1]

One of the things Nazis sought after during their invasion of European countries was Jewish books and writings. Their goal was to collect all of Europe's Jewish books and burn them. One of the first countries to be raided was France, where the Nazis took 50,000 books from the Alliance Israélite Universelle, 10,000 from L’Ecole Rabbinique, one of Paris's most significant rabbinic seminaries, and 4,000 volumes from the Federation of Jewish Societies of France, an umbrella group. From there they went on to take a total of 20,000 books from the Lipschuetz Bookstore and another 28,000 from the Rothschild family's personal collection, before scouring the private homes of Paris and coming up with thousands of more books. After sweeping France for every Jewish book they could find, the Nazis moved on to the Netherlands where they would take millions more. They raided the house of Hans Furstenberg, a wealthy Jewish banker and stole his 16,000 volume collection in Amsterdam they took 25,000 volumes from the Bibliotheek van het Portugeesch Israelietisch Seminarium, 4,000 from Ashkenazic Beth ha- Midrasch Ets Haim, and 100,000 from Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana. In Italy, the central synagogue of Rome contained two libraries, one was owned by the Italian Rabbinic College and the other one was the Jewish community Library. In 1943, the Nazis came through Italy, packaged up every book from the synagogue, and sent them back to Germany. [29]

Immediate aftermath Edit

The Allies created special commissions, such as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) organization to help protect famous European monuments from destruction, and after the war, to travel to formerly Nazi-occupied territories to find Nazi art repositories. In 1944 and 1945 one of the greatest challenges for the "Monuments Men" was to keep Allied forces from plundering and "taking artworks and sending them home to friends and family" When "off-limits" warning signs failed to protect the artworks the "Monuments Men" started to mark the storage places with white tape, which was used by Allied troops as a warning sign for unexploded mines. [27] They recovered thousands of objects, many of which had been pillaged by the Nazis.

The Allies found these artworks in over 1,050 repositories in Germany and Austria at the end of World War II. In summer 1945, Capt. Walter Farmer became the collecting point's first director. The first shipment of artworks arriving at Wiesbaden Collection Point included cases of antiquities, Egyptian art, Islamic artifacts, and paintings from the Kaiser Friedrich Museum. The collecting point also received materials from the Reichsbank and Nazi-looted, Polish, liturgical collections. At its height, Wiesbaden stored, identified, and restituted approximately 700,000 individual objects including paintings and sculptures, mainly to keep them away from the Soviet Army and wartime reparations. [30]

The Allies collected the artworks and stored them in collecting points, in particular the Central Collection Point in Munich until they could be returned. The identifiable works of art, that had been acquired by the Germans during the Nazi rule, were returned to the countries from which they were taken. It was up to the governments of each nation if and under which circumstances they would return the objects to the original owners. [31]

When the Munich collection point was closed, the owners of many of the objects had not been found. Nations were also unable to find all of the owners or to verify that they were dead. There are many organizations put in place to help return the stolen items taken from the Jewish people. For example: Project Heart, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and The Claims Conference. Depending on the circumstances these organizations may receive the art works in lieu of the heirs.

Later developments Edit

Although most of the stolen artworks and antiques were documented, found or recovered "by the victorious Allied armies . principally hidden away in salt mines, tunnels, and secluded castles", [32] many artworks have never been returned to their rightful owners. Art dealers, galleries and museums worldwide have been compelled to research their collection's provenance in order to investigate claims that some of the work was acquired after it had been stolen from its original owners. [33] Already in 1985, years before American museums recognized the issue and before the international conference on Nazi-looted assets of Holocaust victims, European countries released inventory lists of works of art, coins and medals "that were confiscated from Jews by the Nazis during World War II, and announced the details of a process for returning the works to their owners and rightful heirs." [34] In 1998 an Austrian advisory panel recommended the return of 6,292 objets d'art to their legal owners (most of whom are Jews), under the terms of a 1998 restitution law. [35]

Nazi concentration camp and death camp victims had to strip completely before their murder, and all their personal belongings were stolen. The very valuable items such as gold coins, rings, spectacles, jewellry and other precious metal items were sent to the Reichsbank for conversion to bullion. The value was then credited to SS accounts.

Pieces of art looted by the Nazis can still be found in Russian/Soviet [36] and American institutions: the Metropolitan Museum of Art revealed a list of 393 paintings that have gaps in their provenance during the Nazi Era, the Art Institute of Chicago has posted a listing of more than 500 works "for which links in the chain of ownership for the years 1933–1945 are still unclear or not yet fully determined." The San Diego Museum of Art [37] and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [38] provide lists on the internet to determine if art items within their collection were stolen by the Nazis.

Stuart Eizenstat, the Under Secretary of State and head of the U.S. delegation sponsoring the 1998 international conference on Nazi-looted assets of Holocaust victims in Washington conference stated that "From now on, . the sale, purchase, exchange and display of art from this period will be addressed with greater sensitivity and a higher international standard of responsibility." [39] The conference was attended by more than forty countries and thirteen different private entities, and the goal was to come to a federal consensus on how to handle Nazi-Era Looted Art. The conference was built on the foundation of the Nazi Gold Conference held in London in 1997. The U.S. Department of State hosted the conference with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum from November 30 to December 3, 1998. [40]

After the conference the Association of Art Museum Directors developed guidelines which require museums to review the provenance or history of their collections, focusing especially on art looted by the Nazis. [41] The National Gallery of Art in Washington identified more than 400 European paintings with gaps in their provenance during the World War II era. [41] One particular piece of art, "Still Life with Fruit and Game" by the 16th-century Flemish painter Frans Snyders, was sold by Karl Haberstock, whom the World Jewish Congress describes as "one of the most notorious Nazi art dealers." [41] In 2000 the New York City's Museum of Modern Art still told Congress that they were "not aware of a single Nazi-tainted work of art in our collection, of the more than 100,000" they held. [41]

In 1979 two paintings, a Renoir, Tête de jeune fille, and a Pissarro, Rue de village, appeared on Interpol's "12 Most Wanted List," but to date no one knows their whereabouts (ATA Newsletter, Nov. '79, vol. 1, no. 9, p. 1. '78, 326.1–2) The New Jersey owner has asked IFAR to republish information about the theft, with the hope that someone will recognize the paintings. The owner wrote IFAR that when his parents emigrated from Berlin in 1938, two of their paintings "mysteriously disappeared." All of their other possessions were shipped from Germany to the U.S. via the Netherlands, and everything except the box containing these two paintings arrived intact. After World War II the owner's father made a considerable effort to locate the paintings, but was unsuccessful. Over the years numerous efforts have been made to recover them, articles have been published, and an advertisement appeared in the German magazine, Die Weltkunst, May 15, 1959. A considerable reward has been offered, subject to usual conditions, but there has been no response. Anyone with information about these two paintings is asked to contact IFAR.

However, restitution efforts initiated by German politicians have not been free of controversy, either. As the German law for restitution applies to "cultural assets lost as a result of Nazi persecution, "which includes paintings that Jews who emigrated from Germany sold to support themselves, [42] pretty much any trade involving Jews in that era is affected, and the benefit of the doubt is given to claimants. German leftist politicians Klaus Wowereit (SPD, mayor of Berlin) and Thomas Flierl (Linkspartei) were sued in 2006 for being overly willing to give away the 1913 painting Berliner Straßenszene of expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, which was in Berlin's Brücke Museum. On display in Cologne in 1937, it had been sold for 3,000 Reichsmark by a Jewish family residing in Switzerland to a German collector. This sum is considered by experts to have been well over the market price. [43] The museum, which obtained the painting in 1980 after several ownership changes, could not prove that the family actually received the money. It was restituted [44] to the heiress of the former owners, and she had it auctioned off for $38.1 Million. [45]

In 2010, as work began to extend an underground line from Alexanderplatz through the historic city centre to the Brandenburg Gate, a number of sculptures from the degenerate art exhibition were unearthed in the cellar of a private house close to the "Rote Rathaus". These included, for example, the bronze cubist style statue of a female dancer by the artist Marg Moll, and are now on display at the Neues Museum. [46] [47] [48]

From 2013 up to 2015 a committee researched the collection of the Dutch Royal family. The committee focussed on all objects acquired by the family since 1933 and which were made prior to 1945. In total 1300 artworks were studied. Dutch musea had already researched their collection in order to find objects stolen by the Nazis. It appeared that one painting of the forest near Huis ten Bosch by the Dutch painter Joris van der Haagen came from a Jewish collector. He was forced to hand the painting over to the former Jewish bank Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co in Amsterdam, [49] which collected money and other possessions of the Jews in Amsterdam. The painting was bought by Queen Juliana in 1960. The family plans to return the painting to the heirs of the owner in 1942, a Jewish collector. [50]

Approximately 20% of the art in Europe was looted by the Nazis, and there are well over 100,000 items that have not been returned to their rightful owners. [51] The majority of what is still missing includes everyday objects such as china, crystal or silver. The extent to which looted art was taken was seen according to Spiegler as, “The Nazi art confiscation program has been called the greatest displacement of art in human history.” [52] the end of World War II, “The United States Government has estimated that German forces and other Nazi agents before and during World War II had seized or coerced the sale of one fifth of all Western art then in existence, approximately a quarter of a million pieces of art.” [53] Because of such wide displacement of Nazi looted art from all over Europe, “to this day, some tens of thousands of artworks stolen by the Nazi’s have still not been located.” [54]

Some objects of great cultural significance remain missing, though how much has yet to be determined. This is a major issue for the art market, since legitimate organizations do not want to deal in objects with unclear ownership titles. Since the mid-1990s, after several books, magazines, and newspapers began exposing the subject to the general public, many dealers, auction houses and museums have grown more careful about checking the provenance of objects that are available for purchase in case they are looted. Some museums in the United States and elsewhere have agreed to check the provenance of works in their collections with the implied promise that suspect works would be returned to rightful owners if the evidence so dictates. But the process is time-consuming and slow, and very few disputed works have been found in public collections. [ citation needed ]

In the 1990s and 2000s, information has become more accessible due to political and economic changes as well as advances in technology. Privacy laws in some countries have expired so records that were once difficult to obtain are now open to the public. Information from former Soviet countries that was previously unobtainable is now available, and many organisations have posted information online, making it widely accessible. [ citation needed ]

In addition to the role of courts in determining restitution or compensation, some states have created official bodies for the consideration and resolution of claims. In the United Kingdom, the Spoliation Advisory Panel advises the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on such claims. [55] The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), a not-for-profit educational and research organization, has helped provide information leading to restitution. [ citation needed ]

In 2013 the Canadian government created the Holocaust-era Provenance Research and Best-Practice Guidelines Project, through which they are investigating the holdings of six art galleries in Canada. [56]

1992 International Archives for the Women's Movement discovery Edit

On 14 January 1992, historian Marc Jansen reported in an article in NRC Handelsblad that archival collections stolen from the Netherlands including the records of the International Archives for the Women's Movement (Dutch: Internationaal Archief voor de Vrouwenbeweging (IAV)), which had been looted in 1940, had been found in Russia. [57] The confiscated records were initially sent to Berlin and later was moved to Sudetenland for security reasons. At the end of the war, the Red Army took the documents from German-occupied Czechoslovakia and in 1945–46, stored them in the KGB's Osobyi Archive [de] (Russian: Особый архив ), meaning special archive, which was housed in Moscow. Though agreements were drafted almost immediately after the discovery, bureaucratic delays kept the archives from being returned for eleven years. In 2003, the partial recovery of the papers of some of the most noted feminists in the pre-war period, including Aletta Jacobs and Rosa Manus, some 4,650 books and periodicals, records of the International Council of Women and International Woman Suffrage Alliance, among many photographs were returned. Approximately half of the original collection is still unrecovered. [58] [59]

2012 Munich artworks discovery Edit

In early 2012, over one thousand pieces of artwork were discovered at the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, of which about 200–300 pieces are suspected of being looted art, some of which may have been exhibited in the degenerate art exhibition held by the Nazis before World War II in several large German cities. [60] The collection contains works by Marc Chagall, Otto Dix, and Henri Matisse, Renoir and Max Liebermann amongst many others. [60]

2014 Nuremberg artworks discovery Edit

In January 2014, researcher Dominik Radlmaier of the city of Nuremberg announced that eight objects had been identified as lost art with a further eleven being under strong suspicion. The city's research project was started in 2004 and Radlmaier has been investigating full-time since then. [61] [62]

2015 Walbrzych, Poland rumored armored train Edit

In Walbrzych, Poland two amateur explorers — Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter — claim to have found a rumored armored train that is believed to be filled with gold, gems and weapons. The train was rumored to be sealed in a tunnel in the closing days of World War II before the collapse of The Third Reich. Only 10% of the tunnel has been explored because much of the tunnel has collapsed. Finding the train will be an expensive and complicated operation involving a lot of funding, digging, and drilling. However, to support their claims the explorers said experts have examined the site with ground-penetrating, thermal and magnetic sensors that picked up signs of a railway tunnel with metal tracks. The legitimacy of these claims has yet to be determined, yet the explorers are requesting 10% of the value of whatever is within the train if their findings are correct. Poland's deputy culture minister, Piotr Zuchowski, said he was "99 percent convinced" that the train had finally been found but scientists claim that the explorers' findings are false. [63] [64]

The Jewish Digital Cultural Recovery Project (JDCRP) is a comprehensive database that focuses on the Jewish-owned art and cultural objects plundered by the Nazis and their allies from 1933 to 1945. The JDCRP was initiated in May of 2016 by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany in collaboration with the Commission for Art Recovery. [65] Their goal was to further expand on the already existent database of objects stolen by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, one of the primary Nazi agencies involved with the plunder of cultural artifacts in Nazi-occupied nations during World War II. [66]

By creating this database, the JDCRP is positioned to accomplish numerous goals. The collection of this data on looted Jewish objects during WWII can provide a deeper understanding of various looting agencies employed by the Nazi party, current whereabouts of individual artifacts, and details on persecuted Jewish artists. In addition, the information collected by the JDCRP can provide further guidance to families and heirs of art, museums, and the art market. Lastly, the JDCRP can serve as a way to memorialize Jewish artists that were victims of the Nazi party’s looting and celebrate their artistic legacies. [67] Overall, the goal of the JDCRP is not to replace existing databases and publications regarding stolen art during the Third Reich, but rather to supplement the already available information and build upon it with a focus on art plundered from Jews. [68] Furthermore, the mission of the JDCRP is not only to establish a central database for this information and make it easily accessible, but also to develop a network of institutions that can work to promote additional research on this topic. [67]

The JDCRP accumulates data from a variety of sources. A few examples include inventories of looted objects found by Allied forces, lists of stolen objects submitted by victims, and lists of looted and restituted cultural objects compiled by governments. Once data is gathered on a specific object, the JDCRP strives to exhibit the following pieces of information: details regarding the stolen object, background on the perpetrators and victims of the theft, information on those who profited from the thefts, and specifics on the locations at which the stolen object(s) were held. [67]

On January 1st, 2020, The JDCRP launched its Pilot Project centered around the famous art collection of Adolphe Schloss. The purpose of this initial launch is to test the feasibility of a central database for stolen Jewish artifacts and to determine the manner in which the JDCRP database will be constructed and maintained. This venture is funded by the European Union and is intended to establish the framework necessary for the JDCRP. [65]

The Nazis Assume Power

A month after Hitler assumed the Chancellorship, the Reichstag building burned. Blaming the fire on the Communist Party of Germany, Hitler used the incident as an excuse to ban those political parties that opposed Nazi policies. On March 23, 1933, the Nazis essentially took control of the government by passing the Enabling Acts. Meant to be an emergency measure, the acts gave the cabinet (and Hitler) the power to pass legislation without the approval of the Reichstag. Hitler next moved to consolidate his power and executed a purge of the party (The Night of the Long Knives) to eliminate those who could threaten his position. With his internal foes in check, Hitler began the persecution of those who were deemed racial enemies of the state. In September 1935, he passed the Nuremburg Laws which stripped Jews of their citizenship and forbade marriage or sexual relations between a Jew and an "Aryan." Three years later the first pogrom began (Night of Broken Glass) in which over one hundred Jews were killed and 30,000 arrested and sent to concentration camps.


Beginning of World War II

Germany threatened Austria's current government to be reunited, or face war. Since most Austrians are partly German, and were having economic struggles, Austria was forced to be reunited. Then Germany demanded land from western Czechoslovakia, which was allied with France, Britain, and Poland. After Hitler made that decision, France and Britain wanted to make an appeasement to Germany. In return, Germany cannot seek more land to control. Eventually the rest of Czechoslovakia came to join Germany in August. Germany was preparing for war as WWII starts.

Before a month from the start of World War II, Germany and the Soviet Union made an agreement to invade Poland. Germany would control the western side of Poland, including Warsaw, and the Soviet Union would control the eastern side. Germany and The Soviet Union also made a non-aggressive pact to prevent any wars between the two countries.

WWII started in September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. This caused Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany. After this came Canada, South Africa, India, et al. After a period inactivity or silence, Germany attacked Norway and Denmark, because it was to protect the German trade border from the north sea. Then, they then further invaded Belgium, Netherlands, France, and Luxembourg. First, Netherlands was easily defeated by a strategic move called "Blitzkrieg", which means "Lightning war". Basically, Netherlands was over-run by German tanks, which was called "Panzers".

The Fall of France

Then, The Germans were planning to attack France. At first, The Germans would use the old strategy, which involved going into Belgium, then coming from the north into Paris. But instead, The Germans used Blitzkrieg again, which over-ran Belgium, and flanked France into the Alsace-Lorraine. The French failed to defend because of poor strategy, and failed to produce more weaponry. France was divided into two states, with northern France owned by Germany, and southern France was free France, but invaded by Italians. Hitler called this historical event "The Fall of Paris", as of a great nation has fallen to Germany. Shortly afterwards, Winston Churchill called Hitler for another appeasement, but the appeasement was denied.

Battle of Britain

Germany's next target was Britain. The Germans were ready to flank Britain from the south, but unfortunately, their naval forces were far more superior. The only way Hitler was able to control Britain was to get full dominance in the air. The German's Luftwaffe (Air force) has much more planes, than Britain had. This battle did end shortly, but there was bombing from both sides.

A map of Operation Barbarossa

Germany's attention to Soviet Union

In 1941, Hitler was planning to turn Germany's attention to the Soviet Union. Operation Barbrossa was planned to attack Soviet Union in the east, following up its allies such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Finland. The massive invasion led about over 3 million troops. Hitler planned that once the Soviet Union was conquered, he would make all of western Soviet Union controlled states, into a huge home for Germany by destroying Slavic cities, and creating new German cities. Other non-Slavic countries serve as puppet states. This operation caused most of the deaths (besides the holocaust of Nazi Germany) as lots of millions of Soviet troops, and civilians.

Declaration of war against the United States

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Germany declared war on the United States, to support Japanese conquests in the Pacific. Perhaps this was one of the mistakes that made Germany fall in 1945.


In 1943, Germany invaded Greece, and countries who supported the allies, to gain several materials to fight against the allies. Oil, was one of the main sources for Germany's powerful tanks and planes. As the Germans advanced on, the allies stopped Germany from reaching the primary source of oil, which was in the middle east. Unfortunately, Italy couldn't stop the allies from coming up to north-western Africa from Sicily. As Italian fascism fell, the Germans had to protect northern Italy from going into mainland Germany.

D-Day, and the Soviet Retaliation

After a few months of fighting in Africa, and the holding up on the eastern front, the Soviets started to retaliate with a massive army that was recently recruited. Since it was the winter of 1943, the Germans didn't have resources to supply themselves in the cold. Adolf Hitler told the German commander in the east to keep fighting their way to the eastern cities. However, the Germans either died off in the war in the eastern front, or died in the cold while advancing. Instead, some Germans even made camps to protect themselves against the Soviets. Unfortunately, the Soviets slowly make their way to eastern Europe, while destroying any German camps nearby. The Germans, and their allies in the east quickly depleted, before they even got into Moscow. Meanwhile, the allies were in a stalemate in Italy, while defeating German troops in the Middle East so the allies can supply oil to themselves.

In early June, 1944, the Germans were fortifying themselves in the western front to prevent any liberation against the allies. The allies surprised Germany by invading Normandy (Operation: D-day)  with the allies gaining the advantage. Since most of the German troops were in the eastern front, the allies were successful in liberating northern France.

The Fall of Nazi Germany

After a couple months of fighting in the eastern, and western fronts, Germany's army started to deplete rapidly, with only a couple of defensive cities that Germany had fortified before the allies invaded. The Soviets in the east had very little resistance against the Germans, which made it easy for the Soviets to capture the eastern countries. The allies in northern Africa liberated a few countries in the Balkans, and all African countries that were under the Axis controlled areas. In late 1944, the allies had liberated France from German forces.

A Soviet soldier raising the flag over the Reichstag during the Battle of Berlin

In early�, Germany was starting to face defeat, and Adolf Hitler lived in an armored bunker in case the Soviets had reached Berlin already. In April 1945, before Hitler committed suicide, the Soviets were having an intense battle with the last remaining German soldiers, but this time, Berlin was very well fortified. In the last day in April, the Soviets were victorious, and Adolf Hitler committed suicide with his wife in the bunker before the Soviets got to them.

However, the allies were still fighting German forces after the first few days in May. Germany decided to surrender under the Soviets, and the allies officially, on May 8, 1945. Within the surrender, Germany was divided into four zones, which were controlled by the British, French, American, and Soviet forces. Berlin was also divided up into four zones, because the Soviets had more control over eastern Germany than the allies had.


Nazi Germany, overall, was a very powerful country in Europe at that time. Since the Germans were blamed for killingن million Jews, and other disabled attributes of people, Germans today promised not to do anything like that ever again. However, Nazism today seem to spread influence into several other countries. Germany is responsible for paying anything that is associated with Nazism since the criminal code was established.The influence of Nazi Germany still is just a haunting shadow of the world today.

The Holocaust

The Holocaust was a massive killing of mostly Jews, people with disabilities, and people who aren't with the Nazi regime. When Adolf Hitler started to appoint himself as chancellor of Germany in 1935, he established the Nuremberg Laws, which indicates that all Jews were required to wear a Jewish badge, and follow brutal laws in German lands. However, before the laws were established one month earlier, Adolf Hitler warned all Jewish people to move out of Germany, or they might face severe consequences. The Jews that Hitler considered to be bad, were killed in Jewish concentration camps found mostly in Poland.

Was Sweden really neutral in World War Two?

Sweden, during the Second World War, declared an official policy of ‘non-belligerency,’ meaning that the nation itself was unattached to either the Allied Powers or the Axis Powers. Since the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden had attempted to maintain this policy of neutrality. In those wars, over a third of Sweden’s land was lost, including new Russian control of Finland, and these losses, alongside a coup d’état against Gustav IV, former King of Sweden, meant a new foreign policy of non-belligerency was formed, namely the Policy of 1812. Whether the Swedes, and even the government themselves, steadfastly adhered to this policy is questionable, however, especially in the years 1939 to 1945.

One key feature of Sweden’s lack of neutrality in the Second World War is closely linked with its long history with Finland. Finland was a ‘co-belligerent’ with Germany, meaning that it engaged in the war as support for Germany, due to its nations’ alliance. Evidence points to Finland under Swedish rule from the late thirteenth century, starting with Swedish crusades to Western Finland, securing Swedish rule over the nation and creating a Swedish province. Their rule collapsed on September 17, 1809 as a result of the Finnish War, where, under the conditions of the Treaty of Fredrikshavn, Finland became a semi-independent Grand Duchy under Russian rule with the Tsar as Grand Duke. But, even with the lack of rule over Finland, Sweden still supported the nation, and managed to indirectly help its cause a number of times during the course of the Second World War, undeniably leading to support for Nazi Germany and its allies in the process.

Support for Axis Powers

As opposed to its official government policy, when called to fight in Finland, as many as 8,000 Swedes volunteered, and in response to German pleas for volunteers against the Soviet Union, around 180 Swedes joined the German Waffen-SS. It was always the individuals’ choice to enlist however, the government also helped in ways such as sending food, ammunition, weapons and medicine to Finland during conflict. While the number of Swedish volunteers was comparatively small compared to some other nations, the country’s willingness to help in the war effort surely points to its obvious lack of neutrality. Even if official government policy stated the country was in a non-belligerent position, the actions of people in a nation are what ultimately reveal the true nature of the attitudes, and these undeniably show Swedish refusal to sit on the sidelines and do nothing.

Another concern for Sweden during the war was trade. At the beginning of WW2, an agreement had been signed by Sweden, the United Kingdom and Germany, in order to sustain vital trade, but Swedish shipping began to be attacked. As a result, trade with Britain reduced by about 70%, and it increased with Germany, culminating in 37% of Swedish exports being to Germany alone. The battle of the Atlantic was what caused Swedish trade to be blocked, but a few vessels, known as ‘lejdtrafiken’ or ‘the safe conduct traffic,’ were allowed through to the United States (until their entrance into the war), and some neutral nations in Latin America.

This leads onto arguably the biggest point concerning Swedish support for the Axis Powers, and why historians are still debating Swedish neutrality during WW2: the iron ore trade. Germany used this ore in its weapon production, and trade form Sweden to Germany eventually became so large that ten million tons of iron ore per year was shipped to the Third Reich. The government did not interfere with the trade because of its official policy of neutrality. British intelligence had identified German dependency on this production of ore, and estimated that Germany’s preparations for war could end in disaster if there were to be a delay in exports. Therefore, the Allies planned to seize the iron ore deposits by using the Soviet attack on Finland in November 1939 as a cover. They planned to gain Norwegian (the ore was shipped through harbors in Norway to reach Germany) and Swedish permission to send expeditionary forces to Finland, under the pretense of helping the Finnish, and once there, they would take control of the northern cities to gain access to the ore and deny German access to it. However, the Norwegians and Swedes realized the danger of allowing an expeditionary force to be sent across their nations and so refused to allow it. Sir Ralph Glyn had even claimed that if iron ore exports were stopped, an end to the war would have been imminent, showing the Allies’ belief in the importance of Swedish trade to Germany, and so eluding to the lack of neutrality of Sweden during the Second World War.

A final point regarding support for the Axis Powers in WW2 concerns Operation Barbarossa, the German plan to invade the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. The Germans asked the Swedes to allow German armed forces to be transported by train through Swedish land, from Norway to Finland. There was huge controversy surrounding what the government should do, and the political debates around the issue became known as the ‘Midsummer Crisis.’ This was the first point in the war where the Swedish government itself, as opposed to simply the people, was asked to reject its foreign policy of six hundred years. The four party coalition that ruled Sweden was in disagreement, with the Conservative and Agrarian parties, the Swedish Foreign Office and Gustaf V all wanting to grant Germany permission. In opposition, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party wanted to adhere to their foreign policy. In the end, permission was granted to Germany, and thus, the Swedish government showed opposition to its country’s long-held foreign policy.

Support for the Allies and opponents of Germany

Firstly, intelligence played a huge part in Swedish support for the Allies, as military intelligence was shared between them. Due to its ‘neutral’ stance, Sweden was able to gain physical access to Germany, which was useful for both Swedish and Allied intelligence, and the Polish resistance was assisted as employees at factories acted as couriers for messages. Moreover, German telegrams passed through Swedish-leased cables, allowing the Swedes to intercept them, and due to Arne Beurling breaking the cypher code in summer 1940, the messages were understood and the Polish resistance movement conveyed these to the Allies. Another example is when the German battleship Bismarck set off to attack the Atlantic convoys, Swedish intelligence informed the British. In addition, Swedish businessmen, diplomats and emissaries actively spied for the Allies in cities such as Berlin.

Secondly, militarily, Sweden assisted the Allies. They helped to train soldiers, originally refugees from other European nations, and allowed Swedish airbases to be used in the last two years of the war. On June 13, 1944, a V2 rocket being tested by the Germans crashed in Sweden and they exchanged its wreckage with Britain for Supermarine Spitfires. In another instance, the Swedish merchant navy, totaling around 8,000 seamen, found itself outside the Baltic and from May 1940, was loaned to Britain. The Allies began preparing to liberate Denmark and Norway in 1945, and they wanted Sweden involved and so the nation began preparing for ‘Operation Save Denmark,’ where they were to invade Zealand from Scania. Sweden then planned to assist the Allies in the invasion of Norway, and whilst this was not necessary in the end, US planes used Swedish military bases during the eventual liberation.

Finally, an integral part of what creates doubt around Sweden’s policy of ‘non-belligerency,’ was its part in hosting and assisting refugees and Jews who were being persecuted by Hitler and the policy of the Final Solution. Sweden became a place of refuge for these people, and nearly all of Denmark’s 8,000 Jews were brought to Sweden after the order to deport all Danish Jews in 1943. Norwegian and Finnish Jews also fled to Sweden and many stayed there after the war, too. While this shows a lack of neutrality, with its open defiance to Germany’s cause, ironically, it was Sweden’s policy of neutrality that allowed Jews to seek refuge there, as Germany wouldn’t invade the country. Alongside this, many were working to try and persuade German leaders to treat the Jews more humanely, such as King Gustav V of Sweden. Moreover, diplomats such as Count Folke Bernadotte, who contributed to saving over 15,000 prisoners from concentration camps, Raoul Wallenberg, who saved up to 100,000 Hungarian Jews, and Werner Dankwort, who secretly helped Jewish children to escape to Sweden inside wooden crates, were able to use their statuses to communicate with the German government and pass information back to Sweden.

In conclusion, I think it is safe to state that Sweden was only in name, a neutral country during the course of the Second World War. It did aide both sides, however, which is perhaps what has led to the debate surrounding the reality of its neutrality. Arne Ruth argues that “Sweden was not neutral, Sweden was weak,” and Winston Churchill believed that Sweden “ignored the greater moral issues of the war and played both sides for profit,” although this could perhaps be discredited due to the evidence that points to the country’s immense help in saving so many victims of the Nazi regime. We must also consider that WW2 was indeed a ‘Total War,’ and so was there ever any real possibility of any nation within Europe being completely neutral during the period?

Do you think Sweden was neutral in World War 2? Let us know below…

Selling Americans on America after World War Two: The Freedom Train

The Freedom Train was a bold concept – a patriotic museum on the tracks aimed at unifying a fractured United States after World War Two. It offered needed moments of genuine patriotic respite in a post-war time of divisive challenges and solutions. Gerry and Janet Souter, authors of a book on the freedom train ( Amazon US | Amazon UK ), explain.

A locomotive built especially for the freedom train.

Ten years of the Great Depression plus four years of World War II had left Americans battered. Every facet of life seemed challenged the United States had inherited world leadership by default.Sixyears of wartime production brought the country outof the Great Depression, but with the conflict ended, unions demanded higher wages and were at war with the government. In 1945-46, five million workers went out on strike.Manufacturershad barely crept back intocreatingconsumer products. Soldiers returned from the war zones to the protection of the GI Bill of Rights that promised education, cheap housing and a new start, but not a job. Adding to shifting labor force problems were boatloads of refugees streaming into the country from war-ravaged Europe. Many of these “Displaced Persons” were highly skilled and educated, affecting labor and housing issues at various levels. Black GIs sought recognition in the segregated South and fearful North.

It was time to re-ignite the republic’s exhausted engine, to re-establish the core that had sustained the nation through those past years of sacrifice. The American people needed the cavalry to arrive in the nick of time, the winning touchdown to score, and the long shot horse to win the race— something to cheer.

No one could have imagined that Adolf Hitler would provide a bold embrace of America’s freedoms, patriotism, civic responsibility and pride in her hard-won liberties.

Selling the Freedom Train Idea

One of the greatest selling jobs ever attempted began in1946. William Coblenz, an assistant director with the Public Information Division of the Department of Justice often spent his lunch hour at the National Archives. There he discovered an exhibit of captured German government and military documents, including an original copy of Hitler’s last will and testament to the German people. Staring at the Fuhrer’s signature on that yellowed document, the frightful power of those final wretched thoughts of a mad man made Coblenz wish more Americans could look on the face of tyranny and appreciate the freedoms they inherit as a birthright. The Archives also displayed America’s legacy of documents from the conception of the independent republic to iconic objects brought back from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific that would touch hearts and drive home our sacrifices for those freedoms. They were all there—and in the Library of Congress and private collections—all sealed behind glass. How could this treasure be brought to whole country?

Virtually every city and town had a railroad station. Understanding the government’s cash-strapped post-war situation, Coblenz proposed a passenger car be turned into a traveling museum featuring the contrast between Nazi Fascism and American Freedoms. It would be coupled to freight trains and dropped off at cities and towns in all the 48 states to be opened for the public’s inspection of copies of the actual documents. He called it the “Liberty Train” with a budget of $20,000 and presented his idea to his boss, Thomas C. Clark, the U.S. Attorney General. Clark loved the idea and understood the sad condition of the country’s coffers. “Might as well be two million,” as far as Congress was concerned. Realizing that opening the concept to private funding might sully the simple patriotic message, he still saw no other option and made a few calls.

The Liberty Train idea caught fire among movie and corporate moguls. Bank and Stock Market presidents signed on along with labor unions and entrepreneurs. In December 1946, they gathered for a meeting in Washington, D.C. Also included at this plan meeting was the Advertising Council, a conglomeration of advertising shops who furnished Allied propaganda and civilian wartime motivation during the war. They’d honed their patriotic idea-selling to a fine edge and joined the board of directors to the brand-new American Heritage Foundation, led by Ad Council president, Thomas Brophy. The Council created the patriotic infrastructure that drove the selection and presentation of the collected artifacts. Under Brophy’s leadership, all public utterances flowed from, and all private funds were collected by this foundation.

The freedom train in Los Angeles.

Creating the Train and Its Irreplaceable Cargo

With expert historians combing the National Archives, Library of Congress and private collections, the train grew from one orphan passenger car to a train of seven passenger cars hauled by their own locomotive. The selection of documents and iconic objects eventually booted out Hitler and the Nazis for a more positive All-American collection in passenger cars converted into rolling steel vaults forming one long aisle for visitors. The Pennsylvania and Santa Fe railroads furnished the coaches to be gutted and lined with custom bronze and Lucite cases containing the actual documents, notcopies. Heading the train was a brand-new ALCO diesel-electric locomotive, and, like the rest of the train, painted white with red and blue stripes and gold eagles.

The value of the new cargo aboard the “Freedom Train,” its final name, required extreme security. Thomas Clark penned the Secretary of the Navy for the loan of 27 United States Marines in dress blue uniforms. From more than 200 applicants, the result was a detail of combat Marines led by Lt. Colonel Robert L. Scott. Three deluxe passenger coaches were set aside for their traveling quarters plus three pullman porters. With the marines were housed curator experts, train managers, and a Navy medical officer.

Packaging the Freedom Message

To build a bigger tent for the national audience, the Advertising Council provided a pre-train arrival package to each of 300 cities and towns consisting of collateral material to produce a week of “rededication” to American values. To facilitate these “Rededication Weeks” the Advertising council would unlimber a campaign for each locality on radio, in newspapers, comic books and movies. Collateral printed material, posters, event suggestions and camera-ready boiler plate logos would spread the message. Advance planners were to visit each community’s designated planning group to help create the necessary buzz and enthusiasm.

Extracting further commitment from Freedom Train visitors, a “Good Citizen” booklet was passed out listing the “Rights and Duties of an American” and the “Nine Promises of a Good Citizen.” (vowing to vote, pay taxes, serve on a jury, etc.) At the conclusion of a visit, a “Freedom Pledge” headed a scroll to be signed by the visitor. This Freedom Pledge was also recited in schools, churches, civic meetings and patriotic events during Rededication Weeks.

Following a nationally broadcast celebrity and champagne send-off from Philadelphia, the Advertising Council’s publicity campaign had already produced an advance notice to the nation that this train would be on its way. The Twin Falls (Idaho) Times News, which was not even on the list of Freedom Train stops—but close enough for a half day auto trip to visit the train at Boise further northwest—was still impressed. Its editorial for August 26, 1947 read:

“it must be admitted that Americans have developed the technique of the publicity build-up to a remarkable degree…The purpose of all this is to make every one of us conscious of the responsibilities as well as the privileges which are ours as Inheritors of the legacy of American freedom. This country's high tradition of democracy has been seriously challenged in the past six years, and is still challenged today. Every failure to live up to that tradition provides a little more ammunition for those who would discount or destroy it. There is a real need for most of us to try more actively and consciously to be good citizens and alert guardians of our heritage.

And on the train went, giving an average head-count of 9,000 Americans a day the opportunity to see:Abraham Lincoln’s reading copy of the Gettysburg Address, the Bill of Rights, Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers, the Emancipation Proclamation, the NATO Charter, the flag flown from the summit of Mount Suribachi by the marines on Iwo Jima during World War II, the German Surrender document, Victory War bonds sold to Americans to help finance the war…130 priceless pieces of our freedom heritage.

Ahead of the train and after it passed, the air waves were filled with patriotic programing. New York promised listeners,

Two hours of star-studded programs saluting the Freedom Train are scheduled on WNEW tonight from 9 to 11 p.m.

“The station has cancelled all regular programs in order to present this special feature which will include ‘The Lonesome Train’ by Norman Corwin, ‘Patrick Henry and the Frigate's Keel’ with Clifton Fadiman, Orson Welles performing readings from ‘The American Condition,’ Bing Crosby as narrator and singer in ‘The Man Without a Country,’ and ‘Ballad for Americans’ sung by Paul Robeson and chorus. Arthur Godfrey will take a CBS microphone aboard the Freedom Train at Grand Central Station on Wednesday at 5:45 p m. to give listeners a word picture of the unique train which is carrying historic documents to all parts of the country.” 1

On the Rails through the Nation

While the Freedom Train inspired Americans’ pride in their country, there were still undercurrents of resentment against those who didn’t quite fit the mold As one Arkansas newspaper editorial noted, regarding the influx of European refugees:

“In these troublesome times…it may sound a bit brutal to those who have not given sufficient thought to the subject.We consider the time ripe to stop thinking with our hearts and start thinking with our heads on the matter of admitting 400,000 displaced foreigners to the United States.” 2

However, as one Baptist minister in Syracuse, New York remarked, “We must get rid of the idea that displaced persons are the scum of the earth. They are industrious, skilled workers, and religious people." 3

In the Deep South, racism was still rampant. The American Heritage Foundation established a rule: “Any city that plans to segregate visitors to the Freedom Train will be bypassed.”Birmingham and Memphis both refused to desegregate their lines of visitors and both, despite pleadings, were bypassed by the Freedom Train.

Whatever the Freedom Train’s reception, the experience of passing down the hushed aisle was, as one newspaper reporter noted, “one has the feeling he is in church.” 4

Journey’s End—Freedom’s Rededication Takes Root

From September, 1947 to January, 1949, the Freedom Train crisscrossed the entire United States to finally end its odyssey in time for Harry S. Truman’s presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. He had sent the train off in Philadelphia and was there at the end. He had won re-election aboard his own train, traveling across the country gathering in grass-roots voters to the trackside cry of “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” Another inspired train shared the rails—the “Friendship Train”—brought tons of donated food to war ravaged Europe and received boxcars of gifts from the Europeans called, the “Merci (Thank you) Train.”

The Freedom Train was a bold concept, aimed at unifying a fractured United States. Despite the ballyhoo and hoopla pushing its conservative consumerism message, it offered needed moments of genuine patriotic respite in a post-war time of divisive challenges and solutions.

One of the Freedom Train’s traveling staff members summed up their experiences that spanned the journey.

“After a while you get up in the morning and start feeling for your Uncle Sam beard. When you see what this country and these documents mean to people—how they stand out there all day to see the things that make the nation great—you get a lump in your throat.”5

The Freedom Train was a rock star and a creature of a jumbled post-war world, striving to bring a measure of unity and order out of chaos to Americans lining the tracks, waiting for the shout,

The Souters’ book,Selling American’s on America—Journey into a Troubled Nation is available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon US | Amazon UK

1. Bridgeport (Connecticut) Telegram of September 22, 1947

2. Camden (Arkansas) News September 13, 1947

3. Syracuse Herald Journal, January 11, 1948)

4. Gilbert Bailey, "Why They Throng to the Freedom Train," New York Times Magazine, January 25, 1948.

Axis initiative and Allied reaction

By the early part of 1939 the German dictator Adolf Hitler had become determined to invade and occupy Poland. Poland, for its part, had guarantees of French and British military support should it be attacked by Germany. Hitler intended to invade Poland anyway, but first he had to neutralize the possibility that the Soviet Union would resist the invasion of its western neighbour. Secret negotiations led on August 23–24 to the signing of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in Moscow. In a secret protocol of this pact, the Germans and the Soviets agreed that Poland should be divided between them, with the western third of the country going to Germany and the eastern two-thirds being taken over by the U.S.S.R.

Having achieved this cynical agreement, the other provisions of which stupefied Europe even without divulgence of the secret protocol, Hitler thought that Germany could attack Poland with no danger of Soviet or British intervention and gave orders for the invasion to start on August 26. News of the signing, on August 25, of a formal treaty of mutual assistance between Great Britain and Poland (to supersede a previous though temporary agreement) caused him to postpone the start of hostilities for a few days. He was still determined, however, to ignore the diplomatic efforts of the western powers to restrain him. Finally, at 12:40 pm on August 31, 1939, Hitler ordered hostilities against Poland to start at 4:45 the next morning. The invasion began as ordered. In response, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, at 11:00 am and at 5:00 pm , respectively. World War II had begun.

Nazi Germany

At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense, I tell you that the Nazi movement will go on for 1,000 years!

Adolf Hitler to a British Journalist

At the beginning of the 1930s, Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party exploited widespread and deep-seated discontent in Germany to attract popular and political support. There was resentment at the crippling territorial, military and economic terms of the Versailles Treaty, which Hitler blamed on treacherous politicians and promised to overturn. The democratic post-World War I Weimar Republic was marked by a weak coalition government and political crisis, in answer to which the Nazi party offered strong leadership and national rebirth. From 1929 onwards, the worldwide economic depression provoked hyperinflation, social unrest and mass unemployment, to which Hitler offered scapegoats such as the Jews.

Hitler pledged civil peace, radical economic policies, and the restoration of national pride and unity. Nazi rhetoric was virulently nationalist and anti-Semitic. The 'subversive' Jews were portrayed as responsible for all of Germany's ills.

In the federal elections of 1930 (which followed the Wall Street Crash), the Nazi Party won 107 seats in the Reichstag (the German Parliament), becoming the second-largest party. The following year, it more than doubled its seats. In January 1933, President von Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor, believing that the Nazis could be controlled from within the cabinet. Hitler set about consolidating his power, destroying Weimar democracy and establishing a dictatorship. On 27 February, the Reichstag burned Dutch communist Marianus van der Lubbe was found inside, arrested and charged with arson. With the Communist Party discredited and banned, the Nazis passed the Reichstag Fire Decree, which dramatically curtailed civil liberties.

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In March 1933, the Nazis used intimidation and manipulation to pass the Enabling Act, which allowed them to pass laws which did not need to be voted on in the Reichstag. Over the next year, the Nazis eliminated all remaining political opposition, banning the Social Democrats, and forcing the other parties to disband. In July 1933, Germany was declared a one-party state. In the 'Night of the Long Knives' of June 1934, Hitler ordered the Gestapo and the SS to eliminate rivals within the Nazi Party. In 1935, the Nuremburg Laws marked the beginning of an institutionalised anti-Semitic persecution which would culminate in the barbarism of the 'Final Solution'.

Hitler's first moves to overturn the Versailles settlement began with the rearmament of Germany, and in 1936 he ordered the remilitarisation of the Rhineland. Hitler became bolder as he realised that Britain and France were unwilling and unable to challenge German expansionism. Between 1936 and 1939, he provided military aid to Franco's fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War, despite having signed the 'Non-Intervention Agreement'. In March 1938, German troops marched into Austria the Anschluss was forbidden under Versailles. Anglo-French commitment to appeasement and 'peace for our time' meant that when Hitler provoked the 'Sudeten Crisis', demanding that the Sudetenland be ceded to Germany, Britain and France agreed to his demands at September 1938's Munich conference. Germany's territorial expansion eastwards was motivated by Hitler's desire to unite German–speaking peoples, and also by the concept of Lebensraum: the idea of providing Aryan Germans with 'living space'.

At the end of the year, anti-Jewish pogroms erupted across Germany and Austria. Kristallnacht – a state-orchestrated attack on Jewish property – resulted in the murder of 91 Jews. Twenty thousand more were arrested and transported to concentration camps. In March 1939, Germany seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia in August Hitler signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact of non-aggression with the USSR. The next step would be the invasion of Poland and the coming of World War II.

Did you know?

When Adolf Hitler was a struggling, poverty stricken artist in Vienna, he did not show any signs of anti-Semitism. Many of his closest associates in the hostel where he lived were the Jewish men who helped him to sell his pictures.

During the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Hitler refused to shake the hand of African-American Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals. However, when questioned about this Owens said: Hitler didn't snub me - it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram.


  1. Taveon

    Yes really, thank you

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