Monday, March 23, 2015

The Pillage of Europe's Bells

Plundered bells on the Hamburg dock in Germany, August 1945
National Archives and Records Administration
The centenary of UC Berkeley's landmark campanile (formally Sather Tower) and carillon was commemorated in late February by a sobering centennial lecture entitled “Bells in the Cultural Soundscape: The WWII Pillage of Europe's Bells and Post-war Reconstruction.” The speaker was Carla Shapreau, a noted specialist in art and cultural property law, whose research involves music-related losses during the Nazi era.

Shapreau treated the Nazi confiscation (as scrap metal to be resmelted for armaments) of some 175,000 bells from the bell towers of Europe during World War II—one of the greatest losses of its kind in history. A report from Berkeley continues:
Ms. Shapreau stressed the cultural importance of the bells and the tremendous efforts made by occupied countries to preserve these symbols of cultural heritage, comparing the responses of several governments including the Netherlands, Belgium, and France to Nazi demands.
She also praised the concerted effort made by arts and musical communities in the U.S. and Britain to identify and protect important precious cultural objects during and after the war. Ms. Shapreau also discussed the complexity and difficulty of recovering confiscated bells despite good documentation. The restitution process caused multiple cases of complaints among nations, particularly between the Russians and Western Allies, and how even many of the recovered bells never returned home due to complicated issues of ownership and politics. She concluded that the stories of bells in war-torn Europe teaches us a great lesson about the importance of protecting culture through the tragic loss of these valuable cultural symbols.
A press release, in the form of an interview with Shapreau, offers further details, for instance that “of the approximately 9,000 bells in the Netherlands before the war, an estimated 6,500 were seized, with approximately 1,840 returned after the war. The Third Reich shipped the bells to several German refineries; two of the largest were in the Hamburg area. The newer bells were the first to the smelter. Wartime bell losses were tallied after the war for Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, the USSR and Yugoslavia. Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway and much of France evaded bell confiscations. 
The lecture was preceded with a centennial recital by the university carillonist, Jeff Davis, who had composed a memorial work, Tocsin, for the occasion. He writes:
Among life's savageries is the plundering of bells to make cannon. Music, which is praiseworthy, is sacrificed to war, which is damnable. I imagined the bells themselves sounding the tocsin to warn each other. The (mis)quoted fragments from Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's De Profundis are solely my responsibility. Out of the depths I cry to you Lord, Hear my voice. Incline your ear to my supplication.
credit: ZNode 2005
And the lecture—substance of a chapter in a book-length monograph in process—was followed by a tour of the 61-bell carillon.
  • Carla Shapreau in the news, from Berkeley Law, HERE.


Carla Shapreau, a Senior Fellow in the Institute of European Studies at UC Berkeley, an attorney, and a violin maker, also teaches art and cultural property law at Berkeley Law (web profiles HERE for IES and HERE for Law). With Brian Harvey, she is author of Violin Fraud: Deception, Forgery, Theft, and Lawsuits in England and America (2nd edn. Oxford UP, 1998). She is currently working on a book regarding music-related losses during the Nazi era.

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