Julius Schlegel (1895-1958) a WWI ace and later Lieutenant Colonel in the ‘Fallschirm Panzer Division Hermann Goering’. In October 1943 Schlegel, anticipating that the ancient Abbey of Montecassino was about to become a battleground, organized a clandestine with only the assistance of a few monks to rescue thousands of artworks and relics from that Abbey over the course of several weeks, with 120 local, non-military trucks and without the knowledge of his command until the plans were completed. The works were deposited, without personal theft or coordinated confiscation with the Germans, at the Vatican prior to the Allied bombing of the Abbey in February 1944. Having lost a leg in subsequent raids, he was threatened with execution by the Nazi hierarchy for the operation and later imprisoned by the Allies for seven months on charges of war crimes. It was the testimony of the abbey monks and the intervention of Sir Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis, having himself served with great distinction in both world wars, that resulted in the release of Schlegel. Rodolfo Siviero (1911-1983), the former Fascist party member turned art scholar turned OSS secret agent who resisted Fascist interrogation by torture to recover more works of stolen Italian art from wartime confiscation than any other single investigator. It was after the 8th of September, 1943, capitulation by Italy that Siviero first became a point of reference of the British intelligence in Florence, later the OSS, as well as a collaborator of the partisans. During that period, operating out of a well-known building on the Lungarno Serristori that had been owned by his friend the Jewish historian Giorgio Castelfranco, the offices of ‘Casa Siviero’, served as the center for the partisans fighting against Germany’s violent Kunstschutz, or ‘art protection’ division.
Walter Andreas Hofer (1893-1971) the high-living successful Berlin art dealer and Goering’s personal big spender who became the curator to the Reichsmarschall with the assignment of building the latter’s dream of the largest private collection of Old Masters art in Europe. This ambition was part of an unofficial competition with Hans Posse (1879-1942), a former dealer in Oskar Kokoschka and other ‘degenerate’ art who, ironically, was Hitler’s chosen curator and assigned to build the German leader’s ‘master race’ museum in Linz, then projected to be the biggest art institution in the world. The unrepentant Hofer, who would go on to a thriving art dealer career after the war as before it, was at the same time known to have have assisted Jewish scholars from all over Europe in resisting Nazi arrest and to have employed them as art experts; he also assisted art dealers of Jewish background in escaping confiscation and, ultimately, death. Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi (1878-1955), a respected antiquario from one of Italy’s most distinguished families who became the art dealer for the American magnate Samuel H. Kress and other notable American industrialists. Though originally a Fascist sympathizer, he broke with that party claiming to be repulsed by Italy’s racial laws while at the same time forced under threat of death into art sales for Goering and Hitler. He was famously defended by the American art scholar and dealer Bernard Berenson, himself of Jewish background, when the latter was put on trial during the 1946 Commissione d'Epurazione (Commission for the Eradication of Fascists) held in Rome.
Princess Malfada of Savoy Hitler ordered the death of all members of the House of Savoy wherever they could be found after the capitulation by Marshal Pietro Badoglio’s surrender of Italy to the Allies on 8 September 1943, ordering Italian forces to "cease all acts of hostility against the Anglo-American forces wherever they may be met"Mussolini. As the Italian army answered only to the king, Hitler saw this as the ultimate betrayal. Meanwhile, because of her anti-war and anti-Nazi activities up until this time, Malfada, the daughter of Vittorio Emmanuele III, the king, was particularly despised by both Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, according to the latter’s diaries. First came the assassination death of her brother in law, King Boris III, said to have been poisoned by order of Hitler; then the arrest of her husband, Prince Philip of Hesse, a German officer, fervent Nazi party member and art dealer to Hitler, soon to be sent to the Flossenberg concentration camp, then Dachau (and eventually the same Allied prisoner camp as Goering and Albert Speer); this was followed by the arrest of another sister and her eight-month old son, both sent to the Mathausen concentration camp…and on and on. Then, when told that her own missing children were being held at the Vatican on its neutral territory, Pope Julius XII turned her over to the Gestapo, transported to Munich for questioning and finally to Buchenwald concentration camp. There she was housed in the isolation barracks near an armament factory and told that Philipp had died. Rather, Philipp had leveraged family properties to pay penalties while restoring others for use. Some became hotels, others museums. Philipp’s children survived the war and were reunited with their father, but Philipp’s wife Mafalda was not reunited with her family. She was housed at Buchenwarld with other prominent prisoners, including members of the Stauffenberg family Confined to horrid conditions, her arm was severed in a bombing by the Allies that took place around an adjacent arms depot; treatment was delayed and she died of a loss of blood. Her naked body was dumped into the crematorium, whereupon a local priest dug it out of the body heap; it was again stolen by fellow inmates and buried on the campgrounds under a rough sign marked“unknown” with an anonymous number. Later, General Patton meanwhile moved his troops into what had been her family castle, then abandoned and adorned with the art of many centuries.
The title is derived from the tragi-comic absurdity that was the story of the great hunting lodge in (East) Berlin belonging to Hermann Goering at the height of the Second World War. Originally part of the palace grounds of Frederick the Great, the lodge was maintained by the Reichsfuhrer for the purpose of aggrandizing his art collection to the point of becoming Europe’s most spectacular private musuem, an ambition for which he ran neck-and-neck with Hitler, also a self-styled aesthete and connoisseur. Working through a network of established dealers and agents whose professional reputations and social status broadened to encompass commonplace looting, confiscation and forced sale as a means of doing business, Goering was able to amass a staggering stash of first-rank Old Masters and classical sculpture.