Monuments Men Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

by: Bret Edsel, Robert M.; Witter (0)

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 Monuments 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.

The Reviews

I knew the basics of the MFAA group but this book took me deep into the history of these people who saved most of the greatest pieces of art in the world from the Ghent Alter Screen and the Mona Lisa to millions of other works looted by the Nazis. To say they preserved the culture of Europe is not an exaggeration. It is a shame that the US wasn't as wise when the antiquities and art of Iraq was looted. In speaking of forging a post-war relationship as victors, monuments officer Edith Standing said, "It is not enough to be virtuous, one must also appear to be so." Appearing to be so may well have kept some of the wholesale hatred toward the conquerors from fomenting in the Middle East as Americans stood by while museums were looted. We watched it on TV. General Eisenhower took steps to save European art and culture even as the final months of WWII raged. In this he was wise.

This book clearly could have been another 200 pages and it still would have kept me interested. I was a little weary at first of reading this book when I considered how many reviews had been completed ahead of me. Ironically, on my old spreadsheet/workbook I used to keep - this book was placed there on the "old list" in 2010. It would seem now it has notoriety as a result of the movie that is currently in movie theatre's around the country. Lieutenant George Stout was a U.S. Navy Officer assigned to the U.S. First and Twelfth Army; a simple annotation to his rank and photo in the beginning of the book would have been appreciated - I kept looking at the "rail road tracks" on his helmet and couldn't understand why he was being called "Lieutenant" when I believed him to be "Captain". Blame this small find on my USMC mentality for military detail; it really is no big deal to the story line nor the book overall.The first thing I personally thought of before I opened up a page to this book was the Battle for Monte Cassino. This battle within the Gustav Line to this day (as with all other parts of the battle for the Gustav Line) simply is a great battle to study and from both the Allied and Axis perspective. Immediately as I dove into the book; and, within the Author's Note, Edsel discusses the need for a book to be written by him on this topic specifically for the Italian Campaign. Happily for me he at least discusses the Battle of Monte Cassino early on (and to no great depth)which was well versed and accountable at least from my personal level. What he failed to mention within these few pages was how the Abbey was destroyed twice before the Second World War, and I speculate he will save that detail for the book on Italy and Italian Art. A small reference of two or three sentences could have been worthy, but I don't want to be too critical of a book that was simply terrific!As with good books on the Second World War one must be critical of the maps that are included. The maps in this book and given this topic are highly appropriate. The maps provide the reader a chance to see from a higher level what the difficulties were geographically with no less than a mere one dozen people doing a job while more than 1 million service members were confronted in combat operations across Europe.The truly fascinating part of this book and historical account of course are the people involved, the art they attempted to locate and save, and the many locations they had to travel into while destruction was occurring in around them at the time of discoveries. The author included relevant photo's of both art and personnel, and provided the historical flash backs where appropriate to the history of the location where the art piece was made, ended up into, and stolen away from by the Nazi Regime. The additional part for me that was interesting was reading of the First Canadian Army as they treked across Belgium under Montgomery's 21st Army Group - my 11 year old Father at the time was about to be rescued with his family, his town, and their lives - some of the things I have heard from Dad are literally unbelievable; I myself am a decorated US Marine Veteran.Edsel provided me with clarity of purpose, poise in prose, and sadness in death while feeling relief in "discovery" of the many faceted art pieces for mankind. He has promised to write a book on Italy and I will accept his word - I hope he would consider one for the Pacific Theatre of Operations as well in the future. The book ends with a follow up to the lives of the Allied players and Axis thieves - it was a terrific ending to a book well worth the read.*** Movie - entertaining - historically off - points of major works and gold captured likely will make interest in some to read more about the stolen treasures; that's my hope anyway. Movie "based on a true story" as indicated in the beginning. ***

quality book as advertised, greatly appreciated

This book has taken some time for me to read, but for no other reason than it has been somewhat painful to consider in such detail how ruthless Hitler and his minions were during the World War II. I first learned about the book during a public lecture by Robert M. Edsel at the McNay Museum in San Antonio in May, 2013.On a personal note, I secured a Master's Degree in art history several years ago. But admittedly, I missed this critical chapter in museum and art conservation history. I had not been made aware that such an organized, impressive, and inspiring effort had been undertaken to save the cultural treasures of Europe.By way of background, the Monuments Men were men and women from several nations who served in the "Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives" section of the Allied effort. They were museum directors, curators, art scholars and educators, artists, architects, and archivists, who supported the war effort in their own specialized ways.Robert M. Edsel suggests one of the Monuments Men - Walker Hancock - must have been thinking while viewing Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" rolled-up and in storage, "war is strange." This sums my feelings up as well.Robert quotes a statement by General Eisenhower in May, 1944, shortly before the invasion of northern Europe. It sheds light on why Americans and others in the Allied Forces should care about the art and architecture of Europe:"Shortly we will be fighting our way across the Continent of Europe in battles designed to preserve our civilization. Inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve. It is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols whenever possible."Certainly the damage inflicted by bombing raids is clear in my mind from historical footage shown on television over the years. But I was shocked to learn of the actions of those ignorant of the importance of art and cultural treasures - whether they be German or American. For instance, the "four lovestruck Americans" who gave important paintings to "young women from a local village" in France. Or the Germans in Dampierre who used the library's renowned Bossuet letters for toilet paper (the latter thankfully saved and restored). One does hear more often about the lamentable and devious means Hitler and his legions used to abscond with works of art owned by Jewish families, but there is also the looting of museums and cathedrals to be considered. The book details each of these activities in meticulous detail.A poignant description I enjoyed particularly follows:"Inside, two Monuments Men bent over a four-hundred-year-old painting in the faint light of a newly arrived lamp. The first was kneeling to the ground, studying its surface like an archeologist in an Egyptian tomb or a medic with a wounded man. The second hunched behind him, concentrating on his notes. The soldiers, tired and dirty, huddled around them like the shepherds at the manger, staring silently at a painting of expressive faces and peasant villagers and at the two adult men in soldiers' garb fussing over every square centimeter of its surface.""The Monuments Men" should be required reading for anyone seeking a college degree in art history, museum studies, art conservation and the like. And I also give my own shout of appreciation, "God bless the Monuments Men!"P.S. - For more interesting discussion, you might enjoy this YouTube channel:

Monuments Men Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
⭐ 4.5 💛 3268
kindle: $9.99
paperback: $14.09
hardcover: $6.99
Buy the Book