Among the many threats the Nazi invasion represented, one was upon the national and international cultural heritage present in french museums and castles. Indeed, Adolf Hitler had a particular history with the world of Fine Arts. Rejected twice from the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna, his desire to prove Germany’s supremacy and hegemony was, as well as being military, through the establishment of the greatest collection of European Art in the “Linz Gallery”. This Gallery was one of the Führer’s several projects: he wanted to build his own private collection, and so by stealing the most important cultural treasures from the countries he had invaded and would invade.However, the french collections were particularly cared for. Thanks to the intelligence, foresight and courage of several curators, the collections of the Louvre, Versailles or Saint-Germain-en-Laye are today complete.
In the wake of the Second World War, the Nazi expansion was already fierce. The Third Reich had already conquered a great part of Western Europe and was looking to expand East, thus France, that was eventually invaded in 1940.
For the Axis troops not to be able to know the value of the boxes if they were ever found, J. Jaujard made up a system for the works to be classified and for the curators to recognize them. The name of the work was never written on the boxes. A colour code was made up, with red tablets for the most important works as well as painted letters and numbers. The first letter was that of the place of origin (L for Louvre for example), the second letter concerned the nature of the work (S for sculpture, P for painting), and the number corresponded to the number attributed to the work. For example, the Mona Lisa was “LP0” and had three red tabled on its box. However, the curators faced several problematics including how to move works that are not possible to disassemble. For that, the Comédie Française lent to the Louvre some of its trucks designed to move the decors for their plays. Overall, 51 convoys were needed to move everything. Jacques Jaujard chose the castle of Chambord to hide the many works taken away from the Louvre. The castle, according to Jaujard who worked hand in hand with Pierre Schommer, had several advantages. The castle had been empty for several years. It had been bought by the French Republic but never opened to the public, and was located far from the frontiers and was therefore protected from enemy invasion. Its large opening allowed the works to be easily placed in the castle. The biggest boxes, coming from the Louvre but also from the collections of Versailles and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, remained on the ground floor, while the others were spread among the several rooms of the castle. Some of them never changed place throughout the entire duration of the war. However, on June 22nd 1940, France was divided between occupied territory and the Free Zone led by the government of the Marshal Pétain whose capital was in Vichy. Chambord was now in Occupied territory. At first, as to avoid the Nazis realizing the absence of several works, several molds of the sculptures that had been moved were placed in the Louvre. By doing so, the Germans – who could visit the Louvre for free when French people had to pay one symbolic euro, a way to humiliat the oppressed french population – could still visit the Louvre and see its collection. However, it was discovered that Chambord held several boxes containing works of art (the boxes had to be opened in order to prove that they did not contain weapons). Thus, the German army started guarding the castle. But the Germans were not aware that some of the greatest treasures of French collections were hidden in the castle. Thus, began the peregrinations of the most precious treasures of international cultural heritage such as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. The latter left the castle of Chambord for a hectic journey. At first, it went to the castle of Louvignies. It was then moved to the Abbey of Loc-Dieu, than to Montauban, and finally to Montal. The several curators who were responsible for the security of La Gioconda were so scared of it being stolen, that some of them even hid it under their bed. However, Jacques Jaujard had found an ally amongst his enemies, Franz Wolff-Metternich. He wasleader of the Kunstschutz, a german office dedicated to the Preservation of the Artistic Heritage, who turned a blind eye to the hidings that Jaujard organized. Thanks to this German ally, Jaujard was able to keep hidden, by moving them from castle to castle, the works that Hitler’s men coveted. Simultaneously, the Nazis were beginning to despoil some of the works, or to ask to the French government to send them to the Reich. To block such transactions, French curators tried to delay as much as possible the administrative paperwork, saving several works from being sent to Germany by the end of WWII.