WWII Booty On Display Treasure Looted From Germany Goes On Show in Moscow

Golden jewellery from Europe's dark age between the 5th and 8th centuries A.D. has gone on show in Moscow for the first time since it was seized by the Red Army from a Berlin museum in 1945.


Russia has unveiled priceless cultural treasures looted from Germany after the end of World War II in an exhibition in Moscow's Pushkin museum that has enthralled German experts.

The museum is showing pieces of jewellery and other objects from the Merovingian era seized by Red Army soldiers from a Nazi bunker in Berlin in May and June 1945.

Experts say the seizure was an appalling loss for Germany. The objects shed light on a mist-shrouded era of Germanic kings between 482 and 714, a period that has yielded fewer artifacts than any other era in European history.

The items now on exhibit were among 1,538 artefacts that a Berlin museum had stored in three boxes inside a bunker to protect them from Allied bombing. The treasure was discovered by Soviet troops and flown to Moscow in June 1945. The booty then disappeared in museum vaults around the Soviet Empire.

German Culture Minister Bernd Naumann, who attended the official opening on Monday, said the exhibition marks "a special event in German-Russian cultural relations." Berlin's Museum for Pre- and Early History sent more than 200 objects on loan to complement the show and the exhibition catalogue was printed in Germany.

But on the main question, the return of the treasure to Germany, Russia is sticking to a firm "Nyet." In 1998, Russia's parliament passed a law asserting the country's right to keep anything seized by the Soviet Union under Stalin from the Germans. The German government, on the other hand, refers to the 1907 Hague convention on land war that forbids the looting of cultural treasures.

Russia's culture minister, Alexander Sokolov, sweeping aside the ownership question, praised the "pragmatic and sensible way" curators from Russia and Germany had worked together. "We are bringing back into the light things without which you can't explain the meaning of Europe," he said.

The exquisite scabbards decorated with minute gold beading, glass necklaces, engraved spearheads, gold goblets, jewel-studded brooches and buckles offer a rare portrait of early medieval Europe, experts say.

The impression is of a culture that was as sophisticated as it was brutal. The 30 Germanic kings who ruled much of the European continent during the period tortured their enemies and had them torn apart by horses.

SPIEGEL staff

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