Fort Belvoir, about 20 miles south of the Pentagon in northern Virginia, is the home of some of the U.S. Army’s most important units, like the Missile Defense Agency and the Intelligence and Security Command. It’s also the home of hundreds of Nazi artworks taken from Germany after World War II — including four paintings by Adolf Hitler himself.
A new article in Washingtonian magazine shares the history of the archive at Fort Belvoir’s Center of Military History. The archive was largely assembled by Gordon Gilkey, an art historian who was commissioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to oversee the removal of militaristic and Nazi artwork from soon-to-be-defeated Germany. More than 8,700 pieces were confiscated in total.
Around 1,600 pieces were returned to West Germany in 1950, with most of the rest was sent back as a result of a 1981 law. But the Army kept most pieces showing swastikas or Nazi leaders.
Access to the Nazi art archive is restricted, and some civilian researchers are turned away. “There’s a very narrow line that we have to walk, because we certainly don’t want it to be a rallying point for Nazism,” Sarah Forgey, curator of the Army’s German art collection, told Washingtonian.
Forgey has analyzed Hitler’s paintings. “In terms of his draftsmanship, he’s proficient,” Forgey said. “You know, if I took an art class, I’d be happy with the results if I painted that.”
But she still think’s Hitler’s art is “creepy,” with humans painted as tiny figures next to looming architecture, and nature that doesn’t show any “sparkle of life.”
“The more I look at this, the less life I see,” she concluded.