Jonathan Petropoulos


On his book Göring's Man in Paris: The Story of a Nazi Art Plunderer and His World

Cover Interview of March 24, 2021

In a nutshell

Göring’s Man in Paris is about three things: first, it is a detailed portrait of a Nazi art plunderer (Dr. Bruno Lohse); second, it tells the story of what happened to Lohse and his associates after the war; and third, it’s about the relationship that developed over a nearly ten-year period between Lohse and the author.

In terms of the first, the book provides a close and personal perspective of a Nazi art plunderer. It takes the reader into Bruno Lohse’s world of Nazi thievery—from his heyday as “king of Paris”, to his capture, imprisonment, and rehabilitation. During the war, Lohse boasted that he killed Jews with his own hands, and while this is unconfirmed, it is known that Lohse regularly joined in on the commandos’ raids of the homes of French Jews. Sometimes these domiciles were still “warm”, the Jewish residents having just recently been evicted, which shows how plundering was inextricably linked to the Holocaust. It also highlights the moral complexities of history, as Lohse was able to protect some Jews (mostly those who helped him), and he also played a key role in saving Neuschwanstein Castle that contained tens of thousands of looted artworks when rogue SS units roaming the south German countryside at war’s end threatened to blow up the castle and its contents.

rorotoko.comLohse shows Göring and Hofer two works by Henri Matisse. The one on the left is now in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Odalesque on the right is in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. Archives Nationales in France.

The second main contribution of the book is that it takes the story of Nazi art plundering into the postwar world. Once the judicial trials and denazification process were completed by 1950, the paper trail in the archives ends. For this part of the history, I was able to interview Lohse and other Nazi plunderers, as well as their friends, and I had access to many of Lohse’s own papers, which allowed me to write about the postwar period. What is most stunning is the degree to which Bruno Lohse revived his career after 1950: he formed a friendship with Theodore Rousseau, a former OSS officer who became the chief curator for European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He consorted with the elite of the art world. Perhaps most remarkable, he became an associate of the Wildensteins—the French-American Jewish family that rose to become arguably the greatest art dealers in the second half of the twentieth century. The complicated relationship between Lohse and the Wildensteins is the subject of the last chapter of the book.

Third, in the epilogue, I detail my experiences interviewing old Nazis, and Bruno Lohse in particular. Over a nine-year period, I met with Lohse dozens of times and pressed him on questions about the fate of missing artworks such as the “Fischer Pissarro” (one of the last paintings by the French Impressionist that was once owned by members of the famous publishing dynasty, the Fischer family). Lohse and I played a cat and mouse game, but I eventually discovered some of Lohse’s secrets, including his keeping the looted Fischer Pissarro in a Zurich bank vault, along with other stolen artworks (the Fischer Pissarro was eventually restituted to the heirs). Göring’s Man in Paris shows the challenges and pitfalls of interacting with an old Nazi like Bruno Lohse.