How War Came (1989) – Donald Cameron Watt.

The worst, because the most irredeemable, losses to Europe were those suffered in the field of art and architecture. The works the Nazis plundered could be and were restored, or at least the best known and most famous. Even those that were looted or ‘liberated’, as the phrase went, by the individually greedy among the Allied armies, would turn up sooner or later among the art and junk shops of Europe and America. But the lost paintings, the monasteries and old cities, gutted by bomb, shell or fire, could never properly be restored; and despite the care that was taken to put some of the more mobile treasures out of harm’s way before the fighting began, to store paintings in caves, statues in cellars, jewels and silver in disused railway tunnels, despite the work of the British and American Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives officers, despite the orders given personally by Roosevelt and Churchill to spare cultural treasures as much as possible and to avoid occupying listed monuments, despite the work of the German Kunstschutz and the Italian officials in similar organizations, a major part of Europe’s treasures, the creations of more than twenty-five centuries of successive civilizations, has disappeared for ever.

In Russia the great eleventh-century monastery and cathedral at Kiev, the Elizabeth-palais and the Alexander-palais at Tsarskoe Selo; the Granavity Palace, the Church of Spas-Mereditsky, built in 1148 with the cycle of fresco paintings, the most celebrated examples of ancient Russian painting; the Cathedral of the Transfiguration at Chernigov, the best of Russia’s Byzantine buildings – all completely destroyed.

In Poland, almost the whole of medieval Danzig; the medieval centre of Warsaw, the old market square, St John’s Cathedral, the baroque palaces of Lazienski and Krasinski, the fifteenth-century Gothic church of the Holy Virgin; in Poznan, the beautiful cathedral; in Lwow, the seventeenth-century church of the Bernardine monks, the flower of early baroque in Poland – all were totally destroyed.

In the Netherlands, in Rotterdam, all but the tower of the Groote Kirk of St Lawrence, the beautiful medieval centre of Middelburg, and many of the best buildings of the same period in Arnhem, Nymwegen, Sluis and Venlo; in Belgium, the Church of St Catherine and the Town Hall at Hoogstraaten, the Reliquary of St Gertrude, the most remarkable example of Flemish Gothic goldsmith’s work, the carved sixteenth-century reredos at Bocholt, the fourteenth-century Benedictine Church of St Gertrude at Louvain, most of the old town at Tournai – all destroyed.

In France, the town of St Malo, largely composed of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century houses, lay in ruins, as did the church and two beautiful towers of Notre Dame in St L6. In Caen Allied shells and bombs completely destroyed the twelfth-century Church of St Gilles, the perfect spire of the Church of St Pierre, the City Hall and the castle. Large parts of the cathedral at Rouen; the medieval section of Beauvais round the old tenth-century church; the twelfth-century cathedral of St Die; the whole waterfront of the Vieux Port in Marseilles – all destroyed.

Budapest, with its loveliest of bridges and the Royal Palace, completely destroyed. In Vienna, bombs directed at that obvious military centre, Schönbrunn Palace, blew the western end of the delicate Gloriette to bits; the Belvedere, built for Marlborough’s ally, Prince Eugene of Savoy, was damaged; incendiaries burnt out the roof of St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna’s beloved Alte Steffel, and the Opera; the Liechtenstein Stadtpalais and the grand baroque palace of the Schwarzenbergs were destroyed.

Britain, like Austria, came off comparatively lightly save for the cities of London, Coventry and Plymouth. Despite the deliberate attempts to destroy it by the Luftwaffe in the so-called ‘Baedeker’ raids of 1943-4, the beautiful eighteenth-century town of Bath only suffered minor damage. The precincts of Canterbury were hit in another Baedeker raid. Worse losses were the cathedral at Coventry, St Andrew’s Church at Plymouth, the Tudor St Peter’s Hospital at Bristol and the fifteenth-century church at St Mary le Port. Worst hit of all were the London churches, Chelsea Old Church, All Hallows, St Bride’s, Fleet Street, St Lawrence Jewry, St Clement Danes, and many others; and the great halls of the city, the Guildhall, Merchant Taylors’ and the Charterhouse.

The worst losses were in Italy and in Germany. The city of Ancona was fought over bitterly, and the Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia and much else destroyed. The ancient Cathedral of Benvento was severely damaged in the fighting following the Allied landing at Salerno. When the Germans evacuated Naples, already battered by Allied bombing, they mined the ruins as they left. The great Church of Santa Chiara was burnt out. As the ‘red hot rake of the battle line’ (Churchill’s words) was drawn up the peninsula, the Allies destroyed the famous monastery of Monte Cassino, and the towns of Cori, Nervi, Palestrino, Frascati and Viterbo all suffered. The Germans deliberately shelled the little medieval town of San Gimignano after they had evacuated it. Forno, Pescara, Faenza were all damaged, and Rimini, with the great Church of San Francesco, Alberti’s masterpiece, was damaged. Paintings, frescoes, altarpieces and painted ceilings were minor casualties. The worst damage was suffered by Florence, declared an open city by Hitler to save it from destruction. To bar Allied troops from crossing the River Arno, all Florence’s bridges save the Ponte Vecchio, including the beautiful Ponte Santa Trinita, were destroyed. To bar the road to the Ponte Vecchio the Germans levelled the old medieval city where Dante lived, the Primo Cerchio of the Middle Ages, and mined the ruins. In chalk, below Dante’s statue in the Colonnade of the Uffizi, an unknown hand scrawled

In sul passo dell’Arno
I tedeschi hanno lasciato
I recordi della loro civiltà.

(‘In their passage of the Arno the Germans have left the record of their civilization’.)

This was the bitter comment of war. For Germany suffered as badly, if not worse than any other country save Poland.

The City Hall at Aachen; St Gereon, the beautiful Romanesque St Maria im Capitol, Gross St Martin, the City Hall and much of the Cathedral itself in Cologne; the fourteenth-century Gothic Town Hall, the City Wine House, the thirteenth-century Church of St Ludges in Minister; the old market place, and the Electoral Palace at Mainz; the town centre and the Kesselstedtpalais at Trier; the old city centre at Darmstadt; the square, and the Alte Markt, the City Hall and the Domplatz at Frankfurt; the Stiftskirche and the two palaces, one sixteenth-, one eighteenth-century, at Stuttgart; the city centre, rich in old houses, at Ulm; the Venetian and Mirror rooms in the Residenz at Würzburg, masterpiece of the great baroque architect Balthasar Neumann; the medieval centre, the market place, the Frauenkirche and the Spital der Heiligen Geist at Nuremberg; St Anne Damen Stiftskirche, masterpiece of the high baroque architects, the Asan brothers; the Town Hall and sixteenth-century centre at Augsburg; the Kaiserhaus and St Andrew’s Church at Hildesheim; the centre of Goethe’s Dresden; the old area around the Binnenhofen with the Katherinerkirche in Hamburg; almost all the old houses in the Altstadt and the five famous churches and the main building of the Schloss Herrenhausen in Hanover; most of medieval Lübeck; the Castle of the Teutonic Knights at Königsberg; the beautiful rococo house of Mon Bijou, the Charlottenburg and the Hohenzollern Schloss in Berlin.

These are only a few of the buildings listed as ‘destroyed’, ‘ruined’, and ‘gutted to the outer shell’ in the reports of the British and American Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives officers who had the heartbreaking task of surveying, reporting, and where possible salvaging those parts of the heritage of Europe which the warriors had spared.

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