Nefertiti Bust: Germany’s Stolen Art

In Art Collecting, Art Galleries, News

Supposedly, Adolf Hitler greatly admired Nefertiti's bust. German Diplomat, Eberhard von Stohrer recounted in the Journal d'Egypte published in 1948 the following quote attributed to Hitler:

 "I know this famous bust, I have viewed it and admired it many times ... It is a unique masterpiece, a jewel, a real treasure ... Do you know what I am going to do one day? I am going to build a new Egyptian Museum in Berlin ...where this marvel will be placed."

Discussing The Quote Attributed to Hitler

This quote attributed to Hitler has made some believe all sorts of conspiracies about the bust from it being whitewashed, fake, or some secret magic artifact. However, the validity of that quote is questionable, according to Egyptologist Rolf Krauss. 

As English diplomat Sir Henry Wotton has said, "An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country." At the time, Germans were well-received in Egypt, with even a few of Hitler's soldiers hiding out in the country to avoid war tribunals, such as "Doctor Death" Aribert Heim and Nazi General Otto Ernst Remer.

It was not in Germany's interest at that time, to be honest about Hitler's assessment of the Egyptian people. As the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 began, there was an undercurrent of reasoning to create a positive association between Hitler and Egypt.

The Arab-Israeli War of 1948

Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husseini, before Nazi Germany's concession, attempted to draft a declaration of German-Arab cooperation to solve "the Jewish question." It can come as little surprise that a few years after Germany concedes, some hid among a group of people who had similar aims as their own. It's almost logical that there soon arose a more formidable attempt to destroy a newly formed Israeli political entity, as Yehoshafat Harkabi, the former head of Israeli military intelligence has argued. He added that the attack also aimed to commit genocide against the Jewish population.

As we can see in their propaganda videos and photos, they had little use or admiration for the people of Egypt, and I genuinely doubt that the German leadership took their artifacts seriously. Yet, if I were to believe this reasoning, then why do they keep this artifact for so long? Why are the country's leaders and its museum staff holding onto the object?

Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt's Expedition

So, let's go further back, Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt went on an expedition to excavate in Armana from 1902 until 1912, seemingly under agreement with Egyptian leadership. During the meeting, the dig's contents were to be split the goods on a 50-50 basis. A witness account said that Borchardt "wanted to save the bust for us," so he presented a photograph that didn't show Nefertiti in her best light. 

To further mislead the inspector, Borchardt claimed the figure was made of gypsum, when in fact, it's made of a limestone core under a layer of stucco. 

According to the witness, the archeologist "cheated," even the wealthy financier James Simon who funded the initial archeological digs, said that the bust should be returned to Egypt. However, the German Oriental Society refused Simon's request and even said that Egyptians shouldn't complain about being cheated in the deal.

But this is the moment where I add some classic gossip, rumors, speculations! The German Oriental Society's refusal was sometime during the release of the best-selling book Mein Kampf. It was a moment when someone like Simon, although a man of wealth, status, generosity, and art appreciation, was also viewed as an enemy of the state based on his race.

University of British Columbia Professor Thomas Schneider said that the Nazi era drastically changed Egyptology's development within Germany. He said, "(The) people who stayed in Germany, or younger generations, as a direct consequence were different people than those who would have lived and had a career in (a) Germany without the Nazis." He added, 

"It is difficult to say how the discipline would look today without National Socialism, but we can very certainly say that Germany would have a different standing today."

I believe the continual refusal to bring the bust back to Egypt, and the circumspect excuses is a reflection of this racism continuing until this day. There is no excuse to hold onto the bust for this long, but racism. I am hopeful that the bust may be returned soon.

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