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The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History Paperback – September 17, 2010
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About the Author
Robert Edsel began his career in the oil and gas exploration business. In 1996 he moved to Europe to pursue his interests in the arts. Settling in Florence seeing some of the great works, he wondered how all of the monuments and art treasures survived the devastation of World War II. During the ensuing years, he devoted himself to finding the answer. In the process, he commissioned major research that has resulted in this book. Robert also coproduced the related documentary film, The Rape of Europa, and cowrote Rescuing Da Vinci, a photographic history of an art heist of epic proportions and the Allied rescue effort. The author lives in Dallas.
Bret Witter cowrote the bestseller Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (Grand Central, 2008). He lives in Louisville, KY.
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When Hitler's forces overran Europe they set about looting the national artistic treasures in a methodical manner. Priceless treasures were pillaged from the museums and galleries of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and other European nations. All property belonging to Jews were taken. Hitler's dream was to create an enormous museum that would be the envy of the entire world. Instead he launched the most destructive war in history.
The allies were aware of the cultural heritage in the areas that they would be fighting. This is why the MFAA was created. The original MFAA officers were tasked with traveling into the war zones and identifying historic sites that needed to be preserved. The stories of what these men accomplished is truly amazing. Time after time they were able to save important buildings from being destroyed.
As the book progresses we see another dimension of their work. They began to investigate the Nazi looting. Their job shifted from simply protecting buildings from destruction to locating stolen works of art. At times the book resembles an action thriller story. The theft of priceless works of art. The heroic civilians who work undercover to spy on the Nazis. The small band of men rushing from place to place to save these priceless objects.
I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the subject, I enjoyed the writing, I enjoyed everything about it. Robert Edsel has done an excellent job of sharing this important story with us. Perhaps there is no greater evidence of the statement that those who do not study history are bound to repeat it. We never studied the important work of the Monuments Men. As a result the allies were not prepared when Iraq was invaded in 2003. The looting of those priceless antiquities could have been avoided by simply employing a group like the MFAA. Perhaps this book will help to raise awareness so that tragedies like the Iraq museum will not happen again.
Edsel covers much ground in the hunt to uncover the pieces of art that occurred in France, Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. He does a good job to outline each of the important individuals that were a part of the Monuments Men, which ranged from established and distinguishable persons that were experts in their field of museum and historical preservation and they came from all over the world. Deanne Keller and Frederick Hart and George Stout, Rose Valland, and Robert Posey from America, John Bryan Ward-Perkins from England, and the hundreds involved. And their training such as Stout’s focused on understanding raw materials, degradation and cause of deterioration, and preparation to prevent deterioration and damage, which would be beneficial once he delved in the race against time to save the artworks. Stout applied preservation and conservation and scientific principles to paintings and visual art. However, the Monuments were a different unit from the rest of the forces that served in Europe due to their backgrounds and the resources that they were and were not provided, they served as only advisors and could not impose any orders on any official or rank, and they had limited access to vehicles, offices, support staff, and any back up plans. In essence, they were a unique group in the war.
After reading the Monuments Men, one may have a better appreciation for this part of history. The format of the book provided a great scope of information and visual presentation, which alternated between stories of the Monuments and the origins and the events related to the Third Reich plans and up to the discovery of the artworks. For the Kindle edition, maps may have been helpful and the photographs may have been dispersed within each chapter rather than at the end of the book.