May 2014 A monthly offering from Drexel Library’s staff about the books we’ve read.
The Monuments Men : Allied heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter
As WWII was winding down on the European continent, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) section of western Allied forces, otherwise known as “the Monuments Men”. Under the command of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, a band of men and women, including some 200 Americans, was assigned to the task. Almost exclusively given the rank of officers, the mission of the Monuments Men was to protect and triage, where possible, the treasured art and architecture of France and Germany*.
Most held positions at esteemed museums in North America and all were recognized as knowledgeable persons in their respective fields, whether it be sculpting, architecture, restoration, etc. Each was assigned to a unit and often arrived on the scene right as a battle ended, sometimes even as artillery was still hot and smoking. Sometimes the Monuments Men arrived just as a valued structure had been reduced to rubble.
The author describes specific precious items stolen by the Nazis from their fellow Germans. Most of these thefts were from wealthy Jews, whose possessions often ended up warehoused in creative hiding places. The tale includes little biographical sketches of the main players on both sides, along with descriptive information of the numerous civilians who assisted in this great work. Not to minimize the large-scale loss of human life in this war, the author presents a most engaging and poignant read of the large scale stealing and destruction of this war and the humble heroics performed to save what was considered culturally important to Western Civilization. For anyone who has an appreciation of art and architecture, or has visited Europe, this book is a must-read!
*The author tackles a similar Monuments Men project in Italy in a separate book.