Berlin Excavation Unearths Modernist Art Buried by Nazis


As mentioned here recently, the Nazis didn’t like Modernism, pessimism or decadent urban themes in art. So in 1937 they sanitised German art museums, removing stuff they didn’t like. Between 1937 and 1941, a selection of the censored work formed a travelling exhibition under the title Entartete Kunst, “Degenerate art”. The intention was to teach the public what NOT to like. As you can imagine, artists since then haven’t minded much if you call them entartet.

Now something mind-boggling. During an excavation for an extension of Berlin’s subway in Rathausstraße, archaeologists have found a cache of bronze and ceramic sculptures from the Entartete Kunst exhibition! It includes pieces by Edwin Scharff, Otto Baum, Marg Moll, Gustav Heinrich Wolff, Naum Slutzky, Karl Knappe, Otto Freundlich and Emy Roeder. Fans of H.R. Giger will recognise where he was coming from in the above piece.

Update 16 November: The sculpture was buried accidentally when the house it was stored in was hit by an Allied incendiary bomb. One of the tenants there was an anti-Nazi who was decorated after the war, which may explain the presence of the cache. More details at Lost in Berlin.


Thanks to Claes Pettersson and Peter N for tip-offs.


19 thoughts on “Berlin Excavation Unearths Modernist Art Buried by Nazis

  1. The title of this blog caught my eye and I couldn’t help, but to read it. It’s always good news that they found arts that were hidden. The whole time I was reading this, a similar history of Korea and Japan popped in my head. As many people know, Korea was under Japanese rule and during that time, Japan withdrew or destroyed a lot of Korean arts. Korea did gain back some arts that were lost, but it’s impossible to regain the entire arts.


  2. makes me wonder of the person who got the job to get rid of this art was saving it by burying it rather than melting it down for bullets.


  3. dmab seems to be spamming every scibling blog with the same nonsense, for no apparent reason. i recommend killfiling him, if you’ve got the requisite browser plug-ins for that.


  4. David M knows how to circumvent personal kill-filing. What you have to do is put some of his stock phrases into your content filter. He writes a new screed every few weeks and pastes it all over the place.

    The last time David wrote something original here he called me “rat man”. Now he calls me “fucker”, which is unusual as he normally doesn’t like to spell out naughty words. In this case, having been married since 1992, I must plead guilty as charged. And happy too!


  5. I have my doubts about the artefacts having been buried there back in the 1940’s – it just seems really unlikely and smacks of a publicity stunt akin to the infamous Hitler diaries. I think the pieces may have been planted there to cover up some embarrassing truth or other (like the museum keeping them in the basement unwittingly for donkey’s years). Or maybe the Roswell aliens were planning to collect them before crashing 😉


  6. There is also the question of ownership, on which the place of discovery may have a bearing. The city-state of Berlin is notoriously cash-strapped, and I won’t be surprised if people lay claims and clamour for compensation very soon, given that some of the items may have been seized (or bought at dictated bargain prices) from private collections by the Nazis.


  7. It must hve been very easy for the nazi’s to get the general public to back them up. This kind of action is based on appealing to the stupidity in people. And that is not so hard – just turn your TV on.
    What I read here in this one post, set me thinking: why didn’t the Nazi’s melt the bronze to make bullets? They did take age old bronze bells from churches for that reason. One Dutch skipper, who was forced to transport a load of stolen bells, sank his ship in the IJsselmeer to save them. So in the case of the sculptures it could indeed have been someone who saved them in this manner.


  8. bullets are, in fact, jacketed in a bronze alloy. pure lead won’t stand up to the internal ballistics of modern-day smokeless gunpowder, the pressures and velocities are too high; the bullet jacket is a necessary design feature. even high-caliber artillery tends to put a ring of bronze around the steel cannon shell (the “driving band”), to act as a pressure seal against the inside of the barrel.


  9. codero @ #10:

    I have my doubts about the artefacts having been buried there back in the 1940’s – it just seems really unlikely and smacks of a publicity stunt akin to the infamous Hitler diaries.

    It’s not entirely clear whether the artefacts were willfully buried at all – it’s just as likely that they simply were kept in a building that was destroyed in an air-raid. After the war, the debris of destroyed buildings were often used rather indiscriminately to fill up craters and new buildings erected on top of them – possibly, the sculptures got into the ground that way.


  10. Wonderful. The official version of the story of the entartete kunst exhibition in Munich was that some works were taken by nazi inteligentsia, most were sold in a Swiss art auction, and the rest was burned by the Berlin fire department. I’m glad they didn’t burn it all.


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