Skip to Main Content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

World Cultural Assets: Ownership, Loss, Recovery, and Protection: Spoils of War

The guide serves as an introduction to issues relating to world cultural heritage, spoils of war, Nazi looting, "displaced" cultural property, and provenance research.


The spoils of war issue resurfaced "with a vengeance" after the fall of Communism in the early 1990s.  One of the most interesting forums where the topic was debated was an international newsletter, Spoils of War, which was published from 1995 to 2003.  The newsletter included specific examples of restitution or recovery of cultural objects "displaced" during World War II as well as reports from various countries about restitution and repatriation efforts.  Issues 1-8 (plus a special edition with some conference contributions) of Spoils of War can be accessed at the Lost Art website. 

For information on World War II, see the tab for Nazi-Looted Objects.

Selected Books

Napoleonic Looting

Music Collections - Music Collection of the Prussian State Library

The Second World War and subsequent changes to state boundaries resulted in significant dispersal and displacement of cultural property, including library collections, located in pre-war Poland and Germany. The former Polish eastern provinces became part of the Soviet Union, and the former German eastern and northern territories were incorporated into Poland and the Soviet Union.  The music collection of the Prussian State Library in Berlin (Preußische Staatsbibliothek) was one of the most significant groups of materials discovered in the former German territories.  It was one of many collections evacuated before the end of the war to various storage depots located in Eastern European lands occupied by the Nazis.  The collection contained, among other things, 109 Mozart autographs, including treasures such as a complete manuscript of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), the last two acts of Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), one act of Così fan tutte, and 11 symphonies (including the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony); 22 Beethoven autographs (including Symphony no. 9 in D minor op. 125 without the choral finale); 25 autographs from the Bach collection; 112 autographs from the Cherubini collection; and others.  Upon discovery, the Berlin Musicalia collection was transferred to Biblioteka Jagiellońska (the Jagiellonian University Library) in Kraków (Cracow), where its existence would not be revealed for several decades.  There were other ‘former’ German music collections, including the collection of the music historian Philipp Spitta, which represented ‘the most prominent single component of the materials formerly of the Berlin Hochschule’, that became "victims," "last prisoners," or "cultural reparations" coming out of World War II (depending on different points of view), but the fate of the priceless music collection of the Prussian State Library is probably the most fascinating.   


Paperchase: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach-- : the search for their lost music - Nigel Lewis
ISBN: 0241102359
Publication Date: 1981 
One of the first books telling the story of manuscript music scores and autographs of the Prussian State Library and their "disappearance" after World War II.

Verlagert, verschollen, vernichtet…: das Schicksal der im 2. Weltkrieg ausgelagerten Bestände der Preussischen Staatsbibliothek - Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz [Red. und Gestaltung, Ralf Breslau].
ISBN: 3880530602
Publication Date: 1995
One of many German monographs devoted to the Second World War history of the Prussian State Library and its music collection.

Ostatni jeniec wielkiej wojny: Polacy i Niemcy po 1945 roku - Włodzimierz Kalicki
ISBN: 838929110X
Publication Date: 2002
An excellent account about the Prussian State Library music collection, described by the author as "the last prisoner of World War II," based to a large degree on Polish sources.


Whitehead, P. J. P. "The Lost Berlin Manuscripts." Notes 33, no. 1 (1976): 7-15.
Whitehead, P. J. P. "The Berlin Manuscripts Recovered." Notes 36 (1980): 773-776.
Henrich, Dieter. "Beethoven, Hegel und Mozart auf der Reise nach Krakau." Neue Rundschau 88 (1977): 165-199.
Rutowska, Maria. "Zbiory Pruskiej Biblioteki Państwowej w Krakowie." Przegląd Zachodni 03 (2012): 123-139.
Other collections, including the Spitta Collection and the collection of over 5,100 predominantly manuscript music scores (Notenarchiv) from the Sing-Akademie in Berlin:
Wolff, Christoph. "From Berlin to Łódź: The Spitta Collection Resurfaces." Notes 46, no. 2 (1989): 311-327.
Wolff, Christoph. "Recovered in Kiev: Bach et al. A Preliminary Report on the Music Archive of the Berlin Sing-Akademie." Notes 58, no. 2 (2001): 259-271.
Patricia Kennedy Grimsted. "Bach Scores in Kyiv: The Long-lost Music Archive of the Berlin Sing-Akademie surfaces in Ukraine." Spoils of War 7, August (2000): 23-35.
Bach is Back from Berlin: The Return of the Sing-Akademie Archive from Ukraine in the Context of Displaced Cultural Treasures and Restitution Politics - Patricia Kennedy Grimsted [The National Council for Eurasian and East European Research]
Publication Date: 2003



Web Resources