The Rosenberg Task Force (Einsatzstab Rosenberg) was headed by Alfred Rosenberg and tasked by Adolf Hitler to hunt out and then confiscate any art treasures in Occupied Europe. Rosenberg was guided in what to acquire by Hermann Goering and Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. Rosenberg was ordered to move to Germany “cultural goods which appear valuable to you and to safeguard them there.” Rosenberg interpreted his task as giving him a free hand in Occupied Europe to take on behalf of Hitler all “ownerless Jewish property”. Rosenberg reported to Hitler with regards to what he had plundered. Between October 1940 and July 1944, the Rosenberg Task Force had plundered:
21,903 art works of all kinds were brought to Nazi Germany in 29 shipments using 137 freight cars.
5,281 paintings were taken including works by Rembrandt, Goya, Gainsborough and Rubens.
5,825 handmade objects such as porcelain, bronzes and rare coins.
2,477 pieces of antique furniture.
The plundered art treasures from France alone were valued at $1 billion and many ended up at Goering’s residences.
While on trial for his life at Nuremberg after the end of the war, Rosenberg defended his actions by saying that at the end of World War One property to the value of $25 billion Marks had been taken from Germany and that what he had done during the war was “historical justice”. Rosenberg also said that by carrying out his task he had ensured the survival of very many of the works of art that might have been destroyed during the war itself. Rosenberg did make it clear that there had never been any intention to let Goering take the pick of the plundered art treasures. When questioned as to why some Dutch Masters were found at his home at the end of the war, Rosenberg told the court that they had been gifts to his wife who had “a passion for antiques”.