To What Extent Did WWII Affect Art


During World War 2 tons of art from Jewish painters and art collectors was either stolen by nazis or left behind as people from the Jewish community decided to flee the country. At the time Germany was ruled by Nazis who took away all rights that resemble the civil liberties that we american citizens have that are protected by law (Civil,1).

Over 1500 pieces of art stolen by the Nazi’s have been recently discovered in a Munich Apartment owned by a man called Cornelius Gurlitt (Gilbert, 1) and there is much controversy over what should be done with the art pieces and the impact the decision will make on the art and jewish communities.

Some people believe that the art should be returned to its rightful owners or their descendants but in some cases it’s simply impossible to track down who owned the art. Others believe that the art should be put into museums but the morality behind doing that is debatable.

The main controversy that has arisen from this problem is finding an ethical solution on what should be done with the art.

Jewish Community

The Jewish community today is still affected by the aftermath of World War 2. During the war Adolf Hitler began “a program of ethnic cleansing, known as the Holocaust , that targeted Jews, primarily, and other groups. Five to six million people were forced from their homes, imprisoned in labor, or concentration, camps.”(Benson, 1725) This cleansing has killed and destroyed the lives of millions of Jewish people.

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Hitler had set out to completely erase the Jewish community not only through violence but by destroying any remnants of Jewish people living in Germany and their history.

One of the methods in which he did this is by art looting. ‘The Nazi system of looting art played a very important role … for Hitler, art had the charisma of being eternal and not disappearing. Whatever happens in history, art would remain.'(Nazi,1) Art was seen by Hitler as something that could potentially help preserve Jewish culture and was a threat to his agenda. Hitler used the term “degenerate art” when referring to any type of art that was remotely Jewish or “un-communist” (Deklein,1) Since it is known what trauma the jewish community has had to endure and still faces the effects today many people believe that the Jewish Community should be the ones benefiting off of the newly uncovered artwork. They believe that since the art was taken away from their ancestors and some believe it should be given back to the new generation.


A museum’s main purpose is to educate people on the past events and show the world’s history off the pages of a textbook. Although the museums goal of educating the world is noble many people still argue the the ethicalness behind putting the stolen work in a museum. The bulk of the work is going to be put into German museums and some people view that as putting the work back into the hands of the people who stole them. The jewish community itself would benefit very little and some believe they deserve some kind of compensation for the atrocities they had to go through by the hands of Adolf Hitler.

Hitler set up organizations such as the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg with the sole purpose of destroying Jewish art or anything with any type of cultural significance to the Jewish community (Campbell, 1). The man whom the hundreds of pieces of stolen art was confiscated from was the son of a man who worked closely with the Nazi’s and helped them aquire all of the art he “perjured himself by dealing in and disposing of works which Hitler condemned as degenerate, which were snatched in their thousands from public museums, and looted from the homes of Jewish collectors.” (Glover,1).

Moral Approach

Dealing with stolen artwork and its effects in a morally sound manor is a very hard task to complete because at the end of the day it would be impossible to please everyone. Each approach to dealing with the artwork could be critiqued and changed. Artworks that have not ended up in Museums often end up being sold at auctions. An example of this happened not to long ago where an art collector purchased a piece of art that they did not know was stolen during the war and the person who bought the art is asking for a refund since they were not made aware of the history the piece of art they bought had (Moynihan, 1). Although this situation is quite rare I would not be surprised if this were to happen again as link between different pieces of art are discovered and there is no uniform way to handle each situation.


Although it is necessary that historical, political and cultural lenses be considered with all the information found on the topic there is not solution to the problem on what should be done with the art. Every situation in which the art comes from is going to be different and some pieces may have a lineage that can be traced back to an owner while others will not. It would be somewhat impossible to come up with a singular solution that will be able to help in every single situation and have each of those situations be handled in a ethical way.

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To What Extent Did WWII Affect Art. (2022, Feb 15). Retrieved from

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