The Rape of Europa : The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War is a very detailed account of the systematic plunder by the Third Reich. It is divided roughly into three parts. The first part deals with the collection of art treasures from every country the Nazis overran ; the second with the recapture and safe-guarding of the art by the Allies; the third with the claims and settlements still going on as paintings, sculptures, artifacts and libraries are returned to their owners....or not.Just as the Nazis planned every aspect of their 1000-year regime for the population of Europe, so they had detailed plans for Europe's art. The very best was slated for the museum in Linz, the city where Hitler was born. Then Hitler got to choose what he wanted for his personal collection. After that, the Third Reich heirarchy grappled for the best of the rest, with Hermann Goering amassing the largest and most impressive private collection. In the beginning, there appeared to be legality to the plundering. Art dealers "sold" the paintings to their Nazi patrons, paintings they had purchased from distressed owners for a fraction of the value of the work. But shortly after, it became out and out looting. The great Jewish collections disappeared and local museums had their paintings removed "to keep them safe." It was an incredible. organized assault on the culture of the overrun countries.When the tide of war changed, the Allies found themselves having to address the problem of the looted art and also the preservation of Europe's architectural treasures. Art and architecture experts were drafted to handle the impossible task of saving everything from Michelangelo's David to millions of books and manuscripts. If they had authority on paper, the reality was much different. There was not enough staff or supplies; preservation of a building, no matter how revered, was secondary to battle objectives; opposing ideas among the various committees to save Europe's art made navigating the bureaucracy a nightmare. And then there were the egos of the experts to contend with. Half these men were rivals in their fields.Finally, with the peace came the decisions as to who got what. Some things were no-brainers. Botticelli went back to Florence. The Ghent altarpiece went back to Belgium. The museums had catalogues for their collections and if their paintings were located, they could be reclaimed. But so many owners were dead. Who had the right to the great Jewish collections when no family members survived? How valid were those "legitimate" sales made under durress? Many claims are still in court and many works still hidden or lost.Nicholas presents the reader with an overwhelming amount of information meticulously annotated. I finally gave up trying to keep names and places straight and just read for the "story." It worked for me. I could appreciate the horror of the willful destruction of Poland's culture without trying to keep the names of the vandals in my head. I didn't dwell on the petty fights among the Allies about whose responsibility a cache of paintings found in the crypt of a church was; I was just pleased that the paintings were saved.The author describes the forest and the individual trees. In all this mass of detail, there are wonderful individual stories. Rose Vallard keeping secret lists of all the stolen works that were stored at the Jeu de Paume in Pars, risking her life every night to photograph invoices, inventories, labels, all the while seeming to work with the Nazis. The heart-stopping removal of the Winged Victory from the Louvre. The moral dilemna of American buyers bidding on Nazi-confiscated degenerate art (Picasso and Matisse) in Switzerland, knowing that the profits would feed the Third Reich war machine, but also knowing that the works would be destroyed if they remained unsold. Nicholas writes a balanced account. She does not spare discussion of Allied doubtful decisions like the bombing of Monte Cassino or the looting and vandalism done by both the Axis and the Allied troops. If there was a crystal chandelier, it had to be shot at by occupying soldiers. Gold artifacts slipped into duffel bags to surface years later in Chicago. Since this book was published in 1995, the fate of Europe's art treasures during World War ll has become a popular genre. Nicholas wrote one of the first books on this subject and still one of the best.