This exhibition deals with the story of the Cultural heritage along the Western Front during World War I, especially with the following themes:
• Cooperation and rivalry in art history and archaeology before the war.
• Endangered Monuments, Archaeological sites and Museums at the outbreak of World War I: When the war broke out, contemporaries found themselves faced with a dilemma – how could they reconcile the doctrine of modern and destructive warfare with concerns for a more ‘human’ war that respected human beings and their cultural property?
• the cultural war and the cultural atrocities: The war was punctuated by large-scale destruction of patrimonial sites (as the library of Leuven University or the cathedral in Reims), which were called ‘cultural atrocities’. Consequently, these ‘cultural atrocities’ largely contributed to the ‘war of cultures’, which consisted in criticizing or condemning the destruction of monuments and works of art by the enemy.
• Cultural heritage as propaganda: The question of heritage was therefore used during this ‘war of cultures’ as a major theme of propaganda – all methods were used in order to denounce the ‘barbarism’ of the other.
• Evacuate or protect on site? Faced with technological advances in terms of military equipment, the curators of European museums began to take some security measures in order to protect the museum buildings and the collections they housed. However, the decisions taken varied according to country, the method of museum management in place and the period of the war.
• The German Kunstschutz between 1914 and 1919.
• The French Service devoted to the Conservation and Evacuation of Monuments and Works of Art in Military Zones, 1917-1919.
• Returns, restitutions and repairs in the post-war period: The years immediately after the war were marked by a deep-rooted rancour between the former warring nations. In addition to the painful count of the large number of cities, towns, monuments and works of art that had been irreparably destroyed along the Western Front, the question remained as to how Germany would be able to compensate the financial losses of its former enemies. Despite the financial compensation paid by the German government, the French public collections stolen during the conflict were often claimed by their original owners, as French law provides.