The Monuments Men; by Robert Edsel and co-written by Bret Witter, is a fascinating look at the recovery and restoration of pilfered art in the last year of World War II in northern Europe. The Monuments Men didn’t have much support and there weren’t many of them, but thanks to some brave museum directors who were willing to stand up to Nazi invaders, centuries of art was located in mines and castles throughout Germany and Austria.
It is an enjoyable book to read. However I found it read more like a textbook than a work of historical fiction. It tends to jump around between: geographic locations, time frames, and the principle Monuments Men.
[This is a very good overview of what the Monuments Men were up against…]
The foundation for culling those riches had already been laid. By 1938, he had already purged the German cultural establishment. He had rewritten the laws, stripping German Jews of their citizenship and confiscating their collections of art, their furniture, all their possessions right down to their silverware and their family photos. Even at the moment he knelt before his mother’s grave on his second day as ruler of Austria, Nazi SS troops under the command of Heinrich Himmler were using those laws to arrest the Jewish patriarchy of Vienna and seize their property for the Reich. The SS knew where the artwork was hidden; they had a list of everything. Years earlier, German art scholars had begun visiting the countries of Europe, secretly preparing inventories so that when Hitler conquered each country—oh yes, he had been preparing for conquest even then—his agents would know the name and location of every important object of artistic and cultural value.
In the years to come, as his power and territory grew, these agents would spread like tentacles. They would force their way into every museum, hidden bunker, locked tower, and living room to buy, trade, confiscate, and coerce. The racially motivated property seizures of Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg would be turned into an art plundering operation; the insatiable ambition of Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring would be bent into an engine of exploitation. Hitler would use new laws, his laws, to gather the great artwork of Europe and sweep it back into the Fatherland. Once there, he would jam it into every available storage facility until the day it could be displayed in the world’s most magnificent museum. – Highlight Loc. 365-77
It would be no exaggeration to guess he [Lt. George Stout- the unofficial leader of the Monuments Men] put 50,000 miles on his old captured VW and visited nearly every area of action in U.S. Twelfth Army Group territory. And during his entire tour of duty on the continent, he had taken exactly one and a half days off. – Highlight Loc. 5724-25
Her 1961 book Le Front de L’Art (The Battle for Art) was made into a 1965 movie entitled The Train, starring Burt Lancaster. The movie was a fictionalized account of the rescue of the art train; the Jeu de Paume and a character named Mlle. Villard, who was meant to portray Rose Valland, were only briefly mentioned. – Highlight Loc. 6098-6101
[I watched this movie last summer- it’s pretty good.]
For a complete listing of the Monuments Men and women from all thirteen nations, and to read additional Nazi documents and letters from the Monuments Men not included in this book, please visit the Web site www.monumentsmen.com.
– Highlight Loc. 7148-50