The Hitler’s Museum – originally in German called The Führermuseum, was luckily an unrealized art museum within a cultural complex planned by Adolf Hitler for his hometown, the Austrian city of Linz.
It was suppose to be the greatest (both in terms of size and collection) museum in the world. This is why the greatest art plunder in human history begun in 1939. Pieces of art were in most of the cases confiscated or stolen by the Nazis from throughout Europe during World War II. The cultural district was to be part of an overall plan to recreate Linz, turning it into a cultural capital of the Third Reich and one of the greatest art centers of Europe. The plan was to overshadow Vienna, for which Hitler had a personal distaste – mostly because of his own failure to gain admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.
Plans For Hitler’s Art Museum
The expected completion date for the project was 1950, but of course because of the fall of the Third Reich it was never constructed. The only part of the elaborate plan which was constructed was the Nibelungen Bridge, which is still extant.
Hitler, as an unfulfilled painter loved art. As early as 1925, he had conceived the idea of a “German National Gallery” to be built in Berlin with himself as director. But it was after the Anschluss with Austria, that Hitler became to think of having his dream museum built not in Germany, but in his “hometown” of Linz in Austria. And he became obsessed with this idea.
The museum complex, designed by Alex Speer, was to include an opera house, a hotel, a parade ground, theater, a library which could house volumes as many as a quarter of a million and of course, the museum with its five hundred-foot facade with colonnades in the grand Fascist Neo-Classical style. The plan included about 36 kilometers of galleries (London’s V&A Museum has about 8 kilometers of galleries) and these galleries were to showcase 27,000 art objects. The model of the museum was set up in the January 1945 in cellar of the new Reich Chancellery, and was ready for viewing on 9 February, when it was examined by Hitler.
Hitler visited the model frequently during his time living in the bunker under the Reich Chancellery, spending many hours sitting silently in front of it. The closer Germany came to military defeat, the more viewing the model became Hitler’s only relief; being invited to view it with him was an indication of the Führer’s esteem.
According to one of Hitler’s secretaries, he was never tired of talking about his planned museum, and it was often the subject at his regular afternoon teas. He would expound on how the paintings were to be hung: with plenty of space between them, in rooms decorated with furniture and furnishings appropriate to the period, and how they were to be lit. No detail of the presentation of the artworks was too small for his consideration.
The collection for the planned museum in Linz was accumulated through several methods. Not only by theft. Hitler himself sent his soldiers on trips to Italy and France to buy artworks, which he paid for with his own money, which came from sales of Mein Kampf, real estate speculation on land in the area of the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat on the Obersalzberg, and royalties from Hitler’s image used on postage stamps.
On 21 June 1939, Hitler set up the Sonderauftrag Linz (“Special Commission: Linz”) in Dresden and appointed Dr. Hans Posse, director of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, as special envoy. The Sonderauftrag not only collected art for the Führermuseum, but also for other museums in the German Reich, especially in the eastern territories. The artworks would have been distributed to these museums after the war. The Sonderauftrag was located in Dresden had approximately 20 specialists attached to it: “curators of paintings, prints, coins, and armor, a librarian, an architect, an administrator, photographers, and restorers.”
From the fall of 1940 on, Hitler regularly received (often as a Christmas present) annotated photo albums full of confiscated art that could be featured in the Führermuseum. A total of 31 albums were prepared, of which 19 survive today.
The Allies found a number of hiding places for looted art, including the famous salt mine at Altaussee, in the Austrian Alps, which contained some twelve-thousand stolen artworks, including the famous The Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, the number one target that Hitler wanted as the centerpiece for his museum. Both because of its beauty, fame, and importance but also because it had been forcibly repatriated to Belgium from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, and seizing it back would right this perceived wrong against the German people.
When in 1945 the famous group of the Monuments Men had heard rumors of art theft and looting throughout the war, they had no idea of it’s scale. Now, some estimate that around 5 million cultural objects were looted, lost, or mishandled during the war. Also the advanced level of organization was shocking – the scores of Nazi officers and hundreds of soldiers were assigned exclusively to the confiscation, transport, and maintenance of looted art and archival material. For Hitler, his art museum in Linz was a real deal – a true evidence of his megalomania.
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