Monuments Men

Monuments Men

by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter

Overview: At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: "degenerate" works he despised.

In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Momuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world's great art from the Nazis.

Deanna Boe (05/06/17): At last a book that has lived up to its excellent reviews. Even though it has been over 70 years when most of this takes place, it is still of major interest and of value to know just what can be done during war. One doesn’t normally think about saving art during war, but saving lives and simply winning the war. When we think of World War II we easily equate it with the Nazi’s annihilation of the Jews, Gypsy’s, mentally ill and anyone else they felt were not fit to live. All of this while trying to take over almost all of Western Europe. The destruction that came about because of one man, Hitler, is almost impossible to comprehend, but remember we must because who knows when another man might try to do the same.

“The Monuments Men” refers to nine main men who simply volunteered to join the military with the sole intention of helping to save the art work of Europe. Most of these men were around 40 years of age and held prestigious jobs in museums and the world of art in the United States and Great Britain. In short, they were unique in their foresight as to what was happening after the Germans took over an area; the plundering of all types of art, nothing was out of their reach or desire to possess. Naturally the number one man who did this was Hitler; he had a vision to establish in his adopted hometown, Linz, Austria, a museum like no other museum in the world. It would be greater than any city of art in Italy, a country that has always been known for its outstanding art collections. It would house as many masterpieces as he could possibly steal. The man who helped Hitler to achieve this was his right hand man, Hermann Goring. Goring was as immoral as his leader and stole as much art, if not more, for himself.

The book takes us from Sicily and the destruction there, to the final fall in Berlin and its aftermath; although the majority of the book deals with the recapturing of France and taking Germany. Most of these Monuments Men worked entirely on their own, not assigned to any one unit. In most cases the higher ups in the military simply didn’t know what to do with them, fortunately their perseverance paid off. Probably the most amazing places where artwork was hidden was a salt mine near Munich, along with the Neuschwanstein Castle. Even today the search is still happening.

The Germans managed to steal not only millions of pieces of actual art, but they also stole “church bells, stained glass, religious items, municipal records, manuscripts, books, libraries, wine, gold, diamonds, and even insect collections.” We are talking about hundreds of thousands of objects, anything pertaining to any type of value. How to return everything to their original owners, museums, or countries where they had been stolen became a colossal task. It was because of these men that the task was even remotely under taken, but even so, “hundreds of thousands of works of art, documents, and books have yet to be found.” Sadly, as the book points out, this does not take into account the immense amount that was probably ruined. The Western world owes much to those brave men who risked their lives to preserve our history as shown through art. Just think how sad it is that millions of historical art objects are being destroyed today in the Middle East. We need men like those told of in this book to try and stop this senseless destruction. This is a worthwhile and thought provoking book to read.
Rating:*****

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