What became of the instruments the Germans stole from France?

What became of the instruments the Germans stole from France?


norman lebrecht

September 25, 2018

Our friend Pascale Bernheim has founded an association to research and recover thousands of musical instruments that the Germans expropriated from France during the Second World War.

Read more about it here.

The last chapter has yet to be written in the story of the German despoilation of Europe.



  • Sue says:

    As the perpetrators of all this horror are long dead I don’t see how anything can be gained by continuing along this line. The present people of Germany had zero to do with any of it.

    I agree with the last line here though!!

    • Robert Hairgrove says:

      What a cynical comment (and so early in the morning … it’s 7:45am in Europe, and this was just posted).

      Did you actually read the article?

      “Pour Pascale Bernheim, il n’est pas question de « vengeance ou de revanche. C’est avant tout un devoir de mémoire, d’autant plus que les témoins de cette terrible époque disparaissent peu à peu. Je souhaite redonner une identité à ces instruments et retracer leur histoire et ainsi de rendre hommage aux personnes spoliées ».”

    • Alan says:

      I must say that even for you, Sue, your comment is shockingly insensitive and uncaring.
      Of course the perpetrators are (mostly) dead, but the descendants of those who were looted, robbed, brutalized, and exterminated still survive.
      Where is your compassion, your sense of justice?
      Shame on you.

      • Bruce says:

        Alan — if you found this comment (from this commenter) surprising in any way, you must still be new here.

        Welcome to Slipped Disc :-/

    • Scotty says:

      Restoration and justice exist to provide a reminder of what is right and wrong. Although the current generation of Germans isn’t responsible for the crimes of their ancestors, they should not benefit from the Nazi era. This generation, in spite of their protestations, needs to understand that the effects of the country’s past continue.

      It so happens that I am a Jew who lives in Germany. Sometimes my German friends complain about the constant reminders of the country’s Nazi past. My friends say that Germany is the last place a Nazi-like movement could resurface. I tell my friends that not only is Germany is not immune to a Nazi resurrection, but many of the societal characteristics that led to the Third Reich continue today. The xenophobia, respect for authority, belief in conformity, and sense of national superiority, could, under the wrong conditions, support another fascist uprising.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Agreed, especially with this:

        “Restoration and justice exist to provide a reminder of what is right and wrong. Although the current generation of Germans isn’t responsible for the crimes of their ancestors, they should not benefit from the Nazi era.”

        And nowadays, there is definitely a nazi-like surge in Germany’s extreme rightwing Krawallen.

        But the fact remains, that the current generations of Germans have nothing to do with what happened 80 years ago. And they are reminded of right and wrong on a daily basis now that there are so many refugees in the country and watch politicans rolling over each other quarreling about the effects – while in reality, most of them have been received and integrated admirably (according to the many programs I saw on German TV about the subject). The paranoia raging thought certain parts of the population is exactly the same as found elsewhere: France, Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Sweden. Even in Andorra there is a rightwing movement of 2 people (at the opposite end of the street). Only in Monaco nobody appears to even notice foreigners.

        • Brettermeier says:

          “And nowadays, there is definitely a nazi-like surge in Germany’s extreme rightwing Krawallen.”

          Sadly, not only here.

        • Robert Groen says:

          At least, now I know who’s going to start World War III. It’s Andorra. And as for art theft, that was so common in earlier times…its modern equivalent seems to be nicking beer mats from a pub. As a matter of interest: is there a pub in La Vella?

    • Andreas B. says:

      Sue doesn’t cease to baffle me.

      In addition to the replies above:
      If I were an orchestral musician in the Linz Bruckner Orchestra, which is mentioned in the article, I would be horrified if I had to learn that the double bass I was playing on was one of the instruments “acquired” by the Nazis.
      Of course these cases have to be investigated and cleared up; stolen instruments have to be returned to their rightful owners or their heirs.

      How can you even question how “anything can be gained” by this?

    • AndrewB says:

      I love Germany and German culture, but just because the WW2 Nazis are dying out doesn’t mean that efforts shouldn’t be made to restore, if possible, stolen property to any heirs of those who perished in the holocaust.
      Every instrument represents a love for music, a soul. Just think how a musician can feel so identified with their instrument that it becomes a part of their identity, an extension of themselves or how the family piano can represent times spent with family together having a special, central place in the home.
      A major part of the Nazi crime was to strip away identity and reduce human beings to numbers ready for slaughter.
      Therefore I believe that tracing and returning these instruments to rightful heirs is an act of respect, commemoration of life and justice.

      • John Borstlap says:


      • Brettermeier says:

        While I mostly agree, I’m not sure if the world would be a better place if one, let’s say violin, is ripped (like it was ripped before, yes, I know) from some child to give it back to a family where maybe nobody even plays it anymore or no one has memory of the instrument at all. It’s different with art which just hangs or stands there.

        • Bruce says:

          Perhaps the family from whom the instrument was taken in the first place could be given the choice of whether to return it to the family from whom it was taken in the second place.

          Or perhaps the family who currently owns the instrument would prefer to return it if they knew how it was obtained. It is not necessary that one plundering be remedied by another.

          The directors of this program acknowledge how difficult it is to ascertain ownership of an instrument, as compared to pieces of art which can often be identified hanging on the wall in family photos, and how little hope there is of restoring most instruments to the original owners or their descendants.

          • Brettermeier says:

            “Or perhaps the family who currently owns the instrument would prefer to return it if they knew how it was obtained. It is not necessary that one plundering be remedied by another.”

            And still you point out that “plundering” might be necessary if they would prefer not to give it back. And I can think of some examples where that might be the case, for example after a costly renovation. So you’d have to take that out of the equation.

            I think the only viable (and not too messy) option here is that a foundation or whatever covers those expenses and compensates the party that is left with no instrument at the end. In my opinion it would have to be the new owner to decide between the instrument and compensation (yes, he’d have to be compensated as well if he chooses to forfeit his instrument and as an incentive to come forward at all) to avoid more “plundering” (the quotes here because I dare not to compare a hypothetical dispossession today with what happened back then.)

    • jaypee says:

      Once again, sue, you show what an insensitive moron you are.
      We all know you support cretin donald the pussy grabber who -as you could witness today- made your country the world’s laughing stock.
      Here’s a suggestion for you: just shut the fuck off and stop making a fool of yourself. We don’t like, nor respect people like you.

      • Bruce says:

        Trolls like Sue are just trying to make you mad.

        (Or perhaps, if I wanted to be a little more respectful, I could say that commenters like Sue enjoy acting like trolls to make you mad)

    • Robert Groen says:

      I agree with you one hundred percent on this. I also think it might help if, when talking about the holocaust and World War Two, we would henceforth refer to the guilty as Nazis and use the name German for the Germans, most of whom played no personal part in the conflagration. Thus “Nazi war crimes”, rather than ‘German war crimes, and so on and so forth. Today’s Germany is a wonderful, gentle country, offering the world possibly the richest storehouse of culture and civilization of modern times. Yes, I know: they have rightwing extremists to deal with, but who doesn’t, nowadays?

    • Helene Kamioner says:

      There’s a bad moon rising and people like Sue and member of the AfD are the beginning and end of the cause.Not only are there thousands of Holocaust perpetrators in Germany and all over the world, including the US. We are in the throes of a resurgence of very dangerous anti-Semitism and have to deal with too many people who think like Sue.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    The picture is of pianos confiscated from families deported to their deaths in the camp system.

    Each of those pianos is someone’s happy and hopeful dream being extinguished.

    But still the toxic commenter rushes in to tell us we must pretend as if it never happened.

  • Michael Endres says:

    There is a book out there, published in 1996, that might answer some of these questions.

    As one reviewer mentioned:
    “It may surprise some readers that music held such a prominent position in the Nazis program of plundering. Cultural historians have ignored music for a long time, focusing their attention on architecture, painting, literature and film, but shying away from the art from Goebbels had dubbed ” …the most German of the arts”…”

    • John Borstlap says:

      A rogue regime is anxious to acquire a veneer of respectability and the arts can be used as such, and especially music since it is non-conceptual – there is no clear, visible meaning. That is why Beethoven could be annexed so easily. We see the same attempts in Russia nowadays, where the regime tries its best to support the arts and music. It is besmearing the expressions of humanity’s nobility for opposite ends.

      • Tamino says:

        It’s not only in Russia, be aware of your engrained cold war reflexes. It’s the same with the Capital, trying to add a veneer of cultivation to its mass exploitativ and murderous doings. In NY, in London, you name it. It’s the blood(y) money that keeps the whole circus running. Anywhere.

      • Tamino says:

        Also the rise of the Nazis to power in Weimar Republic Germany:
        Unthinkable without massive financial support of the international Capital. Similar machinatiins currently become apparent about the financing of the AfD.

  • Escamillo says:

    And what happened to the treasures that Napoleon stole from every country that his armies invaded? Where does one stop?

    • The View from America says:

      What are your talking about?

      What treasures of the Louvre were stolen from Austria, Sicily, Venice, Spain, Prussia and Russia?

      Name one.

      • Escamillo says:

        During Napoleon’s reign, looted art poured into Paris but while some works were returned after his fall, others remain in France today. Indeed, many works confiscated from religious institutions while under French occupation form the backbone of national museums. Napoleon built up a fabulous personal collection and his art advisor effectively made the Musée Napoléon – now The Louvre – a vast trophy case for conquered treasures.

        • The View from America says:

          Name one … and where it was stolen from.

          • Pacer1 says:

            The Wedding at Cana 1563 by Paolo Veronese. Stolen by Napoleon from San Giorgio Maggiore. Now in the Louvre

          • John Borstlap says:

            Also the quadriga from the St Marc church in Venice was stolen and placed on the ‘little’ arc de triomphe in the Tuileries. Many of the sculpture in the Louvre come from Italy. I think the quadriga was returned in later times and replaced in Paris with an exact copy.

            If the Mona Lisa was not bequathed to Francis I by Leonardo himself, it would have been stolen by Napoleon. He also stole an immense load of treasures from Egypt during his campaign there at the beginning of his career.

            Also there is a story that he took a silver fork and knife from the Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna during his occupation, and a napkin. But since this story comes from anti-revolutionary palace staff, it may be apocryphal.

          • Doug says:

            You’ll have to forgive “xir” “Americans on the Left” believe history is a tool of the patriarchy and should either be ignored or twisted into a tool of the left.

          • Brettermeier says:

            “You’ll have to forgive “xir” “Americans on the Left” believe history is a tool of the patriarchy and should either be ignored or twisted into a tool of the left.”

            Ah, yes! Left bad, right good! Make America Simple Again! #MASA

          • CJ says:

            To PACER1: The Wedding at Cana stayed in France with the agreement of the sculptor Canova, who was the negotiator for the restitution of the Italian works of art that took place after Napoléon’s defeat at Waterloo.
            Vivant Denon, the conservator of the Musée Napoléon, cleverly explained that the painting was too fragile to travel and a painting by Lebrun was accepted in exchange.
            Nevertheless, the Wedding had to travel during WWII to avoid being looted by the Nazis, part of a wonderful organization by Jacques Jaujard.
            It is the largest painting of Le Louvre, but not everyone pays attention to it because it faces the Mona Lisa!

      • John Kelly says:

        I was just there and can report that there’s quite a haul of Egyptian stuff, as there is in the London museums.

    • Simon Scott says:

      How about the treasures that Old Boney stole from Malta to finance his Africa campaign?
      All were stored in his flagship,the Orient,which was summarily blown up at the battle of the Nile

      • Simon Scott says:

        Another example: The Stradivari violin which Goebbels presented to the Japanese violinist,Nejiko Suwa 1920–2012 in Paris in 1943. On the net there is a NY Times article about it. Google and form your own conclusions……

    • Scotty says:

      Where does one stop, you ask. Not after a single generation. I’d want my daughter to recove items stolen from me. Whether she’s entitled to my great-great grandfather’s stuff is another matter.

  • jan neckers says:

    From the three paintings of Pieter Paul Rubens for the Sint-Janskerk in my home town of Mechelen in Flanders, only one was returned. The other two are still in France, the biggest robber state in Europe in pre-Industrial times. The French criminals could keep their loot after the first abdication of the Corsican mass murderer. After Waterloo however, the French had to hand over everything and they refused. The duke of Wellington sent in a batalion at the Louvre and the British returned what they found to their rightful proprietors. Of course the French had taken precautions and had already dispatched a lot of art works to the province and this loot stayed in France.
    Other topic: stolen art. On Walloon television there was a documentary on stolen art from Jewish proprietors. A Walloon professor of art reminded us – a fact I was not aware of- that the biggest victims of nazi art madness, were …German museums. They had to hand over their collections which were sold for foreign currency and being German they had not and will never have the courage to claim their property.

  • Brian says:

    It would be helpful if France Musique published an English version for the rest of the world outside of France to read. It looks like a fascinating piece.

  • jaypee says:

    @ doug the moron

    “You’ll have to forgive “xir” “Americans on the Left””


  • Escamillo says:

    “We now have all that is beautiful in Italy except for a few objects in Turin and Naples.” Napoleon Bonaparte. As part of his campaign strategy, Napoleon established a military division – the Commission of Arts and Sciences – dedicated to seizing and shipping captured artworks back to Paris. Tragically, conquerers plunder and destroy, and have done since the beginning of recorded history. Think of Palmyra, and weep.

  • Phillip Ayling says:


    I find this English headline misleading; for the most part these instruments were stolen from individuals or families…not from France. BTW the French headlinedoes not actually say that either.

  • Minutewaltz says:

    The Russians took a lot of art from Germany during the war. Did they also take musical instruments?

    • Hilary says:

      In which case it should be returned. A consistency of approach has to apply though it ought to be decided where to draw the line as it seems looting of artwork etc. is not exceptional to the 20th Century.

      • Andrew Matthews says:

        The Russians who took the art from the Germans may well argue that it was “compensation” for the damage the Germans did to their country when they launched an unprovoked invasion in 1941.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          How far back should we go? Should Venice return what they stole during the crusades? Should the Greeks compensate Iran because Alexander the Great got pissed and smashed up Persepolis?

  • Andrew Matthews says:

    There is rather too much spiteful rhetoric in this thread. Whilst we are on the subject of armed theft by conquering armies, armies have looted and plundered since time immemorial. Charlemagne, who I believe has an EU prize named after him, was the biggest warlord of all and specialised in stealing from the Saxons, the Lombards and the Avars and he made sure the pope got a chunk of the loot. So no doubt the Vatican museum holds much gold and silver stolen from the saxons between 771 and 800.

    As for WW2 I advise you all to read Keith Lowe’s outstanding book “Savage Continent” which tells in quite blunt terms the history of Europe from May 1945 to about 1955. There are numerous specific examples of Jews returning to Hungary after the war and asking their neighbours to return their goods which they had “looked after” during the war. did they get them back? Er … no.

    So before you all continue to castigate Sue just remember that the Nazis did what many others had done before them and afterwards as well, except on a bigger scale. If someone wants to set up some sort of inquiry and bureaucracy to enable some musical instruments to be restored that’s fine by me but just remember it is not even the tip of the iceberg.

    Oh and by the way my grandfather fought in WW1 as a lieutenant. When he was wounded in January 1918 and was given up for dead when he arrived at the casualty clearing station with a huge shrapnel wound. He had a silver cigarette case and silver hip flask his father had given them. His own medics stole it from him after he had shared a sip of brandy and a cigarette with them thinking it would be his last. So don’t think looting is done by the enemy alone.

  • Simon Scott says:

    I have reason to believe that more than a few instruments in the Russian state collection are of confiscated/plundered provenance.
    Ad esempio: One of them is a Vuillaume violin which belonged to a violinist I know personally. The violin in question was the personal property of this person,bought by the parents. This violinist left Russia/Soviet Union in order to marry an Italian musician. The Vuillaume was duly confiscated and in it’s place the violinist was given a worthless factory made Russian cigar box of a violin.
    This is just one example……