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

by: Robert M. Edsel (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

The big note to start this review is that if you watched the movie, fine—it was entertaining and you gotta love the actors. However, if you want the real scoop on the real Monuments Men, you must read the book. I’m not sure why Hollywood (does most of what it does) decided to change the characters or make light of the contributions put forth by Rose Valland by intimating her having a crush on Matt Damon’s character. The Monuments Men were courageous and enterprising, pushing to be in active war zones in their pursuit of art of every kind. They worked closely with residents and a broad array of military personnel. Where the bigwigs so often took the credit—shock—these were the men behind the scenes doing their job and saving millions of pieces of art from the destruction of Hitler’s madness. The book follows the team from their inception to the close of their work. The author, Robert M. Edsel, did a brilliant job solidly taking us along the path of the battles while not losing sight of the point of the story. You may find yourself doing what I did throughout the book—gasping in horror as more and more of what Hitler was doing comes to light. I knew about his confiscation of artwork from everyone, everywhere, and yet I was astounded to find out even more of his evil egomaniacal ways. There are descriptions of the men—and Rose—that I noted along the way, James Rorimer, “He had no practice in failure, and he had no intention of starting now.” Ms. Valland, “Destiny is not one push, she thought as she waited to cross a quiet street on that cold Paris evening years later, but a thousand small moments that through insight and hard work you line up in the right direction, like a magnet does with metal shavings.” You’ll enjoy reading about Harry Ettlinger’s journey with the Monuments Men. A German Jew with American citizenship, he served bravely along with the others. George Stout, “’The sun is fine and, after the rat race, I begin to remember that I am myself and not merely a set of functions.’” Having been blessed with the experience of standing in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam—a haven of art—reading that paintings were taken from there made me sad and appreciate at all that was saved. It took them six years for the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives to return what they’d found to the proper owners. This book reads like an adventure story and will keep you interested the entire way through. If you like history and heroes, read this book, don’t just watch the movie.

The book does a good job of describing WWII and the different levels of action. You can appreciate DD Eisenhower and FDR who set up this program understanding how their military would respond to any outside experts, but chose men in the military who were art conservation experts and proven men of integrity. I learned some about the founders of the museum and art efforts in the US at that time, as well as how they were able to fit into the whole complex system during WWII. The stories are fascinating. The letters home are worth the book.This book helps to remind us of the great integrity and efforts of many Americans during WWII. It is hard to comprehend the organization and huge level of efforts by the Nazis to strip away culture and destroy other supposedly inferior groups. The book helps to keep alive the memories of how horrible the Nazi religion was, the destruction of the German youth at that time, etc. Most beautiful to see the great art treasures of Europe and be reminded of the efforts to save sacred culture in the European cathedrals. So many, personal moments, you feel as if you are there.

I started this with a vague idea of the story, that is to say, I've heard of this but never really studied or read on it. Now I want to know more of this story. It's a good read but I needed to take a few breaks to kind of sort things out. Some parts drag a bit, others blow right along. There were a couple of why didn't I see that points.Bottom line: Recommended for military history buffs with an appreciation for art history. If you don't know anything about it, it's a new angle in the history of the war. It shows the good, bad, and vile natures of humans.

They say those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.During WW2,the Allies fielded the finest art experts,architects,and museum professionals in an effort to prevent The Germans from destroying or hiding the great works of Europe.Although there were some missed opportunities,these few wrote the book on how to do it.Unfortunately,the Americans failed to read it and Gulf War 2 saw looting and destruction on a massive scale.A great read.

I honor the Monuments Men for the dignity and courage they used while attempting to find and return all the major works of art stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War! The Monuments Men is a fascinating story of their attempt to recover and return to their rightful owners all the art and religious artifacts that were stolen by the Nazi's. They are courageous and ingenious in tracking down these stollen treasures and this book is both thrilling and a bit nerve wracking at times. I consider it a wonderful read and their actions heroic!

What the monuments men did was remarkable, as no army in history had ever been convinced to even attempt to protect artwork and monuments. (And sadly, this has never been done again.) Fortunately, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Churchill realized that preserving European culture was important. Eisenhower issued an order that buildings designated as monuments could only be destroyed in situations of military necessity, not military convenience.The monuments men were drawn from the museum and artistic community, and most of them were at least forty. This hits home even more in the movie when we see middle-aged men being recruited into the army. (Of course, many of the actors were older than the characters they portrayed.) The men worked mostly alone, without a lot of resources. After the D-Day landings, they learned how much art had been looted by the Nazis. So the mission wasn't just about protecting monuments from further destruction, it was also the greatest treasure hunt in history.One woman played a huge part: Rose Valland of the Louvre. She was a witness to the Nazi looting, and she risked her life to document what they had stolen and where they were shipping it. Without her help, much of the art might never have been found. I recommend the book unreservedly.

This was a very fascinating book. I like learning about WWII and this story was overlaid with the battles and troop movements that were going on around the men who were trying to protect treasures and historic buildings. I would love to see another book about the woman who spied on the Nazis and helped the Monuments Men in their search.

The Monuments Men is a history of a little known group of men and women dedicated to locating, preserving and returning art stolen by the Nazis during WW II. The book also covers the group's efforts to protect historic buildings and art from being damaged during and after battle. I feel deeply disappointed that in all the widely disseminated previous stories about fighting and destruction during WW II, so little mention was made of the Monuments Men and their incalculably valuable contribution to art and civilization. This neglect goes hand in hand with the French disparagement (until recently) of Rose Valland, who risked her life by secretly cataloging and recording the shipment of French art works and the locations of their eventual hiding places in Germany. I thought the book was very well researched and the writing style was quite riveting. Kudos to those whose efforts brought this story to life. The Monuments Men should be required reading for every high school student. And the U.S. Armed Forces should routinely bring the equivalent of Monuments Men to every battle front, lest we lose even more priceless cultural treasures to the insanity of warfare.

This book tells of part of WWII that was not publicized very much but was a very important part of the war effort along with how the US helped restore the lost artwork to the rightful owners. It is a very interesting read and makes you away of the plight of the people in the countries that were involved in the actual battles of this war.

This was an amazing book depicting the "behind the scenes" work of the Monuments Men during and after WWII. It was a very well-written book that gave the story from many perspectives, and put you there with them. I found that after reading this, I still thought about it for days afterwards. I did have the chance to see the movie, "Monuments Men" before reading this book, and found that the book was at least ten times better! There was much more detail and character development.

I enjoy history and this book provided an insight into an important aspect I knew nothing about. I am so glad the author took the time to research and write this story. If not for the movie I would not have known to look for the book. Besides the scope of history, the individual stories of the men who left their homes to preserve the art and cultural heritage of Western Europe is also told. Although the movie is similar to the book, I think the book's narrative moves faster and reveals greater bravery of individuals than is possible through film.

This book is a must read for anyone who has ever stared at a painting or sculpture masterpiece. We were so close to losing so many of these pieces if not for the heroics of the men and women of the MFAA!

One of the most enjoyable aspects to the study of history is always finding new stories. Even when you think you know a lot about a field you find something new and enjoyable. That one of the many reasons that I enjoyed Monuments Men so much. Robert Edsel has provided us with a look at an area of World War II studies that has gone virtually unnoticed for nearly 70 years. The men and women of the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives) Division served an almost unknown, but incredibly valuable part in the war against the destructive evil of Nazism.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.


This was the best historical book I've read all year. I've heard a lot about Nazi plunder and I knew that as a failed artist Hitler coveted many great works of art from private Jewish collections. However I never realized that there was a join US/British military effort to secure the culture of Europe. After reading this book I was also surprised to learn that sometimes the Monument Men had to protect works of art from our own soldiers. With German snipers hiding in cathedral bell towers the urge to just knock the building down had to be resisted. Frustrated allied soldiers smashed chandeliers and artwork after learning that Red Cross packages intended for US POWs were stashed in German basement. The sheer amount of Nazi plunder was staggering, as I kept reading I found myself thinking "they found another stash?".When we think of art we tend to think mainly of the paintings, but the monuments men were attempting to safeguard architectural works, sculptures, altar pieces, and relics in addition to paintings. A few times I had to stop reading to look up pictures of the art online (not realizing the most frequently mention pieces are shown in "photos" chapter at the end of the kindle version).The book is a story of the "people" as much as it is the "acts" of the monuments men. The book starts out with a quick blurb about each of the main players in MFAA. Then at the end of most of the chapters is a letter written by a monument man to his family back home (although a few of the chapters ended with correspondence from Hitler to Nazi leaders). This author did a great job researching a little know tale from WW2. This is a great read for anyone interested in art, history, or WW2. I highly recommend!

The Movie may have been Disappointing but the book is far from it. A interesting book of a little known Army unit that became world famous in recent years. It’s more a human interest story than a bland lifeless military history. Essential Reading for WW2 buffs and casual readers as well

quality book as advertised, greatly appreciated

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. ***

At the beginning of the book, the author notes that he down-sized it by half by eliminating the story of art recovered in Italy during WWII, focusing instead on art recoveries in northwestern Europe. I wish he had consulted me in advance on what would be interesting to his readers.While reading this, I imagined the author at a desk with notecards on each of the Monuments Men. He must have referred to the same notecard to repeat the same description of each of them at least five times, using the same pat physical description and/or description of his family status (e.g., newlywed and deeply in love). This was very tiresome. This left the feeling that he couldn't remember what he had written before and was too lazy to go back and look.The first three-quarters of the book is a plodding recitation of how long and frustrating it was for the Monuments Men to wait for the US Armed Forces to fight their way across Europe, finally reaching Germany and Austria where most of the Nazis' repositories of the looted patrimony/artwork were located so that the Monuments Men could recover the stolen treasures. It should have been reduced by half.The worst part of the book was the lead up to the Monuments Men's ultimate success in finding the largest and most valuable repository of art and archives in an Austrian salt mine. Spoiler alert: There was a horrible Nazi bureaucrat who believed that one of Hitler's final orders required him to destroy the treasure that was hidden in the salt mine. His plan was to blow it up. I love a good cliff-hanger, but the author went too far and actually implied that the treasure had been destroyed. The story was exciting enough on its own (plus the time-pressure of the impending transfer of this Austrian territory to the Soviets), without adopting this false pretense. It was amateurish at best. Fortunately, the treasure was not destroyed and many priceless pieces of art were repatriated to their original owners as a result.I finished the 478-page book because I was fascinated by the story. But I couldn't help wishing that the author and editor had shortened the repetitive lead-up and included the story of recovering looted art in Italy as well. If I had it to do over, I would search for an alternative telling of this story. It's a good one!

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:

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.

Very interesting history

I bought this for my husband, and he is thoroughly enjoying it. He’s not easy to please when it comes to books, so that speaks highly of this one.

I love history. I've seen the movie The Monuments Men and the series on the History Channel. This book fills in so many different stories. It is well worth the read. The Monuments Men deserve so much recognition for the awesome job they did. Thank you Robert for writing this book!

I became interested by seeing the movie. This book gave more perspective on the role and danger these men went though to find and recover these items.

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