Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Found Art

Towards the end of the Second World War, an America soldier by the name of John Pistone broke into Adolf Hitler’s house in the Bavarian Alps, along with his accompanying platoon. He took for himself a souvenir, pilfered from a nearby desk or bookshelf. This story has surfaced on various home pages’ news sections across the internet, each with a concluding emphasis on the importance of the souvenir’s return to Germany.

Pistone’s post-war prize—not only a symbol of Hitler’s defeat, but also a personal trophy of glory, self-awarded for making it, for having been therewas a photo album, which inside it contained a collection of photographed paintings Hitler wanted for Nazi Germany’s new institution devoted to the arts: the “Fuhrermusuem”. Why shouldn’t he have stolen it? I’d take inventory on the man’s house had I been there, having suffered his atrocities.

It didn’t matter what was in the book (it might as well have been something as universal as the Odyssey), but where the book was found. It’s not every day you stumble into a surrendering dictator’s abode; and it’s even a rarer occasion to take home with you, back overseas, a little hard-bound artistic collage of Nazi-coveted artwork. This soldier, just happy to be alive, to have made through hell, would have been just as content returning home to his wife and kids empty handed to revel in the successful years of post-war glory. But his stolen treasure added the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the spiked bayonet at the end of a rifle; and the book would forever remain on his bookshelf or desk—maybe polished, maybe covered in dust—just as the fuhrer had once kept it on his. Maybe one day, the soldier’s kids would knock it down carelessly, and he’d catch them in the act; then reprimand them, then soften them back up, and use this as an opportunity to tell them of how their “good ole’ granddad busted some commie ass” during his militaristic heyday.

A bragging right, that’s all it was. To be placed on a fireplace mantle, and be looked upon by curious neighbors and local photographers, then passed on to the next generation, and then the next—until the museums took it.

It could be that while it remained in the hands of John Pistone, the art in the book was appreciated. Or it could be that not a single photograph in the book’s pages had been looked at critically since Hitler looked through it and said, “That one!”

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