Acting on Stalin’s orders, at the end of the Second World War, soviet trophy brigades looted about two million works of art from Germany and sent them to Russia. Half of them were later returned; the rest are still there. Stalin’s Looted Art gives a vivid account of this pillaging and the courageous but unavailing resistance of German museum staff. It is a tale of secrecy, ruthlessness and greed, set against the chaotic backdrop of post-war Germany.
The scenery is varied, some of the characters are larger-than-life, and the works of art are magnificent. The viewer is taken from the corridors of power in the Kremlin to the bombed-out ruins of Berlin and Dresden, and from fairy-tale castles, salt mines and a disused railway tunnel to the secret rooms in the Hermitage Museum.
On the Russian side there is Second Lieutenant Leonid Rabinowitsch, successively chief theatre painter in the Kiev Opera House, front-line soldier, prisoner of war and member of a partisan group, who discovered the world-famous Sistine Madonna, the pride and joy of the Dresden Collection, concealed in a railway tunnel. Also, his accomplice, Major Natalia Sokolova, the only female member of the arts trophy brigades, whose flamboyant behaviour scandalised her superiors. Among the military there is General Nikolai Berzarin, the Berlin commandant, who criss-crossed the city on his ‘green elephant,’ a powerful Zündapp motorbike to which he added a green-painted sidecar, and Marshal Zhukov, the soviet commander-in-chief, who was exiled to Siberia by Stalin after the security police discovered that his dacha was crammed with looted art. The Germans include Otto Kümmel, the General Director of the Berlin Museums, an ardent Nazi with a ‘strong and wilful nature and a slashing tongue’, Wilhelm Unverzagt, the Director of the Pre-and-Early History Collection, who slept next to the cases containing the Trojan Gold to prevent them from being looted, and the young Gerda Bruns who spent the last night alone, guarding the entrance to the Pergamon Museum to stop Russian soldiers from opening fire in the darkness and accidentally killing hundreds of civilians in the air-raid shelters.
Ian Senior read biochemistry at Cambridge University followed by a master’s degree in Genetics at Queen Mary University, London. Several years later, he studied art history at Birkbeck College London, specialising in Early Renaissance art and English Baroque architecture, and graduated with first class honours. He has worked for many years at Dulwich College in southeast London where he has taught Biology, Chemistry, History, and History of Art as well as being a boarding housemaster and Common Room President, a job which he describes as being a cross between a trade-union leader and ...
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