Rheinsberg House / 1942

The evacuation of works of art to protect them against the effects of war

On July 3, 1942, four large moving vans stopped in front of the palace in Rheinsberg. Their extremely valuable freight consisted of 293 paintings from the Picture Gallery, Sanssouci Palace and the New Palace in Potsdam. During the third year of the war, the administration for the State Palaces and Gardens, under the auspices of director Ernst Gall, continued in their endeavors to evacuate important works of art and historical holdings of exceptional value to places considered safe and far removed from the threats of bombing attacks in the metropolitan area of Berlin. The court chamber administration of the former ruling royal house of Prussia, which was responsible for Rheinsberg Palace until 1945, had made rooms available for this purpose. In 1944, further transports arrived, among these some 150 objects that included furniture from the New Palace in Potsdam as well as paintings and furniture from Königsberg Castle in East Prussia.

A small number of the evacuated goods was integrated into the palace rooms that had remained open to visitors. Most of the objects were stored in the mezzanine, in the spacious library of Prince Henry and on the ground floor of the South wing. The Berlin palaces administration sent its own supervisory staff to Rheinsberg to care for these treasures. There were special regulations that detailed the duties of these staff members in order to provide the greatest protection possible for the works of art under these confined and climatically difficult conditions on site. Up to now, no photographs have been found which show these rooms in use during that time.

On April 29, 1945, the Red Army entered Rheinsberg. Other than broken glass, the palace suffered no damage during the actual fighting. Russian troops occupied the building and were quartered here. A short time later, the majority of the paintings were carted off to the Soviet Union as “war trophies”. However, after the war, not all of the lost works of art and historical holdings arrived there. Individual works came into private collections of Rheinsberg families under convoluted circumstances – only returning again to the Potsdam palaces after many years.

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