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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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The book pretty much ensures that a reader will both understand the logistical difficulties (no actual unit, no access to transportation, constantly having to ask other military personnel for help), the danger (booby-trapped caches of loot, dank salt mines filled with art and explosives, German soldier ambush), and the heroic nature of the Monument Men's job (especially those who worked in Germany and had to reconcile risk to life and limb to save cultural heritage sites like Aachen Cathedral after touring devastating places like Dachau).
What an incredible job they did. What incredible people who believed so passionately in art that they would endure war conditions to attempt to save what the Nazis looted or destroyed.
A pleasant surprise for me was learning about the handful of Monument Men the book focuses on through both biography and letters. I particularly enjoyed learning about Lincoln Kirstein (my name doppelganger) who I thought mostly of as a ballet guy, but who turned out to be more of a Renaissance man in his abilities and proclivities than I had understood. But the others focused on this book (Rorimer, Ettlinger, Posey, Stout, etc) also come alive in their individuality, their specialities, and their connections to Europeans and family back home.
Of course, I couldn't help feeling like the author maybe presented the Monuments Men in their best possible light. George Stout is almost saint-like in his expertise, desire to save German monuments, and empathy for the victims of war.
And at times, for me (who is not a World War II history buff or veteran) the dwelling on various troop movements and battles was a bit much. I yearned for more descriptions of the actual finding of the artwork, but that could be a bit of a personal preference.
Quite interesting look at World War II that's definitely worth a look if you enjoyed the movie. Certainly gives some perspective to some of the movie characters.
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.
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As World War II booms, mens lives are ripped away and the world hangs on the edge, wondering if the world of Nazism has...Read more