Special Report

25 Cultural Treasures Destroyed Forever by War

Source: Public Domain

6. Leuven University Library, Leuven, Belgium
> War / conflict: WWII, 1940

The Leuven University Library in Leuven, Belgium, has the unfortunate distinction of being destroyed twice. The 17th-century book repository was demolished the first time in August of 1914 in the early stages of World War I by the German Army, who set fire to the town of Leuven. The library was rebuilt only to be leveled by the Nazis in 1940 during WWII. Belgium painstakingly rebuilt the library after the war.

Source: Public Domain

7. The National Library of Serbia, Belgrade, Serbia
> War / conflict: WWII, April 6, 1941

The National Library of Serbia, founded in 1832, was completely burned during WWII in the bombing of Belgrade by the Nazis on April 6, 1941. It was reportedly the only library destroyed on purpose in WWII. Hitler’s decision was based on his position that the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia should not exist as a state.

Much of the library’s holdings were destroyed, including 1,300 medieval manuscripts, more than 300,000 books printed in Serbia between the 15th and 17th centuries, 2,000 letters by distinguished Serbian and South Slovac people, as well as Ottoman manuscripts, newspapers, engravings, and maps documenting hundreds of years of history. The bombing also destroyed 8,000 structures in the city and killed 4,000 people.

Source: Public Domain

8. Royal Opera House, Valletta, Malta
> War / conflict: WWII, April 27, 1942

Malta, located between Italy and Libya, played a geographically pivotal role in the Mediterranean Sea during WWII. The island came under aegis of the British Empire in the 19th century and became a key port for the Royal Navy. During WWII, Malta was attacked frequently by German bombers. In 1942, the Luftwaffe bombed the city of Valletta, and during the attack they destroyed the 19th-century Royal Opera House. Eventually, the Maltese built an open-air theater that opened in 2013.

Source: Courtesy of Mariom990 via Wikimedia Commons

9. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany
> War / conflict: WWII, 1943

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin was built in a neo-Romantic style as an expression of nationalist pride in honor of Germany’s first kaiser, Wilhelm I, in 1895. It was destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII, and the victorious Allies refused to rebuild it because of its association with German nationalism.

Source: Stefan Kühn / Wikimedia Commons

10. The Frauenkirche, Dresden, Germany
> War / conflict: WWII, 1945

The firebombing of Dresden, Germany by Allied bombers in February 1945, immortalized in the Kurt Vonnegut book “Slaughterhouse-Five,” devastated a city famous for its Baroque architecture. Its most famous structure was the Lutheran church Frauenkirche, a symbol of suffering that was completely restored in 2005. Other cultural institutions damaged or destroyed were the Zwinger art museum and the Juedenhof palace. Among the artistic treasures lost in the raid were “The Stone Breakers” by Gustave Courbet (1849) and “Danae” by Gilles Backereel (1619/1620).

Source: Courtesy of U.S. Army Signal Corps

11. Historic Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan 
> War / conflict: WWII, 1945

What the massive earthquake of 1923 did not destroy in Tokyo, American bomber planes did during WWII. Incendiary bombs and napalm set off massive fire storms that gutted Japan’s capital in March of 1945, killing 100,000 people, and wiping out historic Tokyo.