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[The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War, by Lynn H. Nicholas (New York: Alfred A.Knopf) 498 pp., $27.50]

Lynn Nicholas has written the most comprehensive account of the Nazis' attempt to steal, sell, dismantle, and destroy Europe's artistic heritage, but her stunning illustrations nearly tell the story for her: a picture of 5000 bells that were stolen from across Europe and stockpiled in Hamburg; a photo of the special room for "degenerate" art that Alfred Rosenberg and Hermann Goering established at the Jen de Paume, where Vermeers, Rembrandts, Cezannes, and Renoirs are stacked like Velvet Elvises at the corner gas station; an eery sketch of candle-lit life in the deep cellars of the Hermitage, where relies and masterpieces are protected by half-frozen curators, art historians, poets, and writers. This is a story of preservation as much as pillage, perseverance as much as villainy. The Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and thousands of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, clocks, and stained-glass windows were hurried out of Paris by truck and train shortly before the Germans arrived and hidden in 11 chateaux west of the capital. The National Gallery's collection was relocated to Wales by underground rail through disused eaves and mines. In our country, the newly opened National Gallery of Art transferred its...

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