Irish TV host and journalist Conor Woodman is no fool. He knows the secret to success in his field.
"A friend once told me, if you want longevity in television, always do shows about sharks or Nazis," he says from his London, England home. "You'll never run out of work."
He's joking (sort of), as I bring up the proliferation of Nazi-related documentaries on streaming services like Netflix. It's a brief moment of levity in our discussion about his rather serious new History Canada series, Hunting Nazi Treasure (which debuted on Oct. 24).
Woodman is one of three hosts, who together, recap the history of Nazi art looting, and then track down lost works and treasures in the present day.
Amazingly, 70-plus years after the end of World War II, there are still around 100,000 Nazi-stolen, museum-standard works of art yet to be recovered.
Woodman is the most adventurous of the three hosts, diving into murky waters to find treasures, and in one particularly tense scene, squeezes into a tiny tunnel underneath Hermann Goering's bunker. (Goering was Hitler's deputy and actively stole property and artwork from Jewish victims of the Holocaust, among his may other war crimes and crimes against humanity.)
"Underneath Goering's house, you could feel the spectre of history and being there was both a scary and adrenalizing experience," he says. "On the walls there were swastikas, placed by modern neo-Nazi groups who see this place as if it were a place of pilgrimage. That part was particularly nauseating."
It's difficult to talk about Hunting Nazi Treasure without acknowledging that it's airing under the cultural shadow of the re-emergence of far-right groups.
"Yeah, I know, you see the news in the U.S. and the far-right groups in Europe and they're re-surging," he says. "This series really is timely, and when we look back 70 years, we're careful to remind just what the bad guys looked like and what they did back in the day. I found that aspect of the show quite reassuring. No matter how divided we are, everyone around the world unifies against Nazis."
One of Woodman's co-hosts, Robert Edsel, is the founder and chairman of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, and co-wrote the book that inspired the 2014 George Clooney film The Monuments Men.
Edsel sees the program as an opportunity to expand the reach of his Foundation's tip line, and help his investigative team locate and recover many more stolen works.
"It's my hope that our program will become America's Most Wanted for culture and lead to the return of priceless objects to their rightful owners," he says. "George Clooney's film introduced the Monuments Men to a worldwide audience; now we have an opportunity to enlist the help of the public to join the hunt for some of the hundreds of thousands of objects still missing."
Hunting Nazi Treasure airs on History Canada Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET.
If you have any information about stolen paintings, documents or other cultural objects from World War II, you can contact the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art at 1-866-994-4278 or [email protected]
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert Ballantyne is Artsculture's Creative Director. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star and other media outlets.