The "Ahnenerbe" Organization was created by Heinrich Himmler as an SS research foundation for the purpose of furnishing scientific underpinnings for the Nazi doctrine of Germanic superiority. During the war the "Ahnenerbe" went in for the looting of cultural objects on a grandiose scale. Many millions worth of scientific collections and libraries, archival material, archaeological finds, miscellaneous works of art, the contents of entire museums, were shipped to Germany. The "Ahnenerbe" operated chiefly in Poland, Southern Russia and Lorraine, but also in Yugoslavia, Austria, Italy, France, and the Netherlands.

The "Ahnenerbe" was founded on July 1, 1935, and incorporated on November 19th of the same year. In 1937, the dean of the philosophical faculty and later rector of Munich University, SS Hauptsturmführer Professor Dr. Walther Wust became its president and curator, and Wolfram Sievers the business manager. For all practical purposes Sievers was the acting head of the organization. The stated aim of the "Ahnenerbe" was the systematic exploration of the Northern Indo-Germanic race and its achievements. This was to be accomplished by the unified coordination of all separate disciplines of letters and sciences bearing upon the "living space," spirit, achievements and heritage of the Indo-Germanic people.

Initially the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) limited itself to confiscating libraries and archives in occupied countries belonging to political opponents. In September 1940 the ERR was instructed to confiscate precious objects and to transport them to Germany. Financed by the Nazi Party, the ERR's early confiscations benefited the Hochschule, the training school for the Party administrators. Göring started to use the ERR for his own ends early in the fall of 1940. In November 1940 he ordered the ERR to confiscate art collections owned by Jews in the Occupied Zone of France. Baron Kurt von Behr was the ERR's director in France and worked closely with Göring. .

The German Commission for the Protection of Works of Art in the Occupied Countries (under direction of the German Army High Command), better known as the Kunstschutz, was led by Count Franz Wolff-Metternich, a former art history professor at the University of Cologne. It was established May 11, 1940, and charged with compiling a list of artworks located in the war zone and protecting them in the name of the army of occupation and in conformity with international agreements. Wolff-Metternich was subsequently dismissed for defying Göring.