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Purged or Looted? The Nazis’ Campaign Against “Degenerate” Art and Questions of Restitution

On July 18, 1937, the Degenerate Art Exhibition opened in Munich. It was a triumphant platform for Adolf Hitler who was working to purge modern art and its ‘ruinous and fatal’ influences from German society and he had a full gallery dedicated to mocking and berating the art and artists who were responsible. 

In the two years that followed, over 23,000 artworks were removed from German state collections by the regime, many of which were sold to American collectors and institutions.

After the war, the U.S. government made a controversial decision not to return the looted art to German museums. As is evident from the current discourse around the subject, this policy remains both controversial and relevant today.

In this lecture, world-renowned author and leading expert Jonathan Petropoulos will tell the story of the Nazis’ theft of European art and provide insights about the current restitution landscape.

The lecture will be immediately followed by a book signing. 

DATE: Thursday, April 20, 2023
TIME: 7:00 p.m.
LOCATION: Jewish Museum Milwaukee
COST: Museum Members $8 | Nonmembers $15
BUNDLE AND SAVE: Museum Members $20 | Nonmembers $35

The Gallery of Miracles and Madness



by Charlie English  (Author)

The Gallery of Miracles and Madness is a spellbinding, emotionally resonant tale of this complex and troubling history that uncovers Hitler’s wars on modern art and the mentally ill and how they paved the way for the Holocaust. Charlie English tells an eerie story of genius, madness, and dehumanization that offers readers a fresh perspective on the brutal ideology of the Nazi regime.

Linda and Eli Frank
Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC)

Jonathan Petropoulos is the John V. Croul Professor of European History at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California.  Previously, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard University (1990), where he began working on the subject of Nazi art looting and restitution in 1983. He is the author of Art as Politics in the Third Reich (1996); The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany (2000); Royals and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany (2006); Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany (2014); and Göring’s Man in Paris: The Story of a Nazi Art Plunderer and his World (2021), and has helped edit a number of other volumes. 

From 1998 to 2000, Dr. Petropoulos served as Research Director for Art and Cultural Property on the Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States, where he helped draft the report, Restitution and Plunder: The U.S. and Holocaust Victims’ Assets (2001). 

Jonathan Petropoulos has served as an expert witness in a number of cases where Holocaust victims have tried to recover lost artworks.  This includes Austria v. Altmann, which involved six paintings by Gustav Klimt claimed by Maria Altmann and other family members (five were returned). 

He is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. 

Works of confiscated art—including those by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Vincent van Gogh—line the walls of the Schloss Niederschoenhausen storage depot. The Nazi regime confiscated the works as “degenerate” art. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of bpk-Bildagentur.

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