I love World War II history but I have to say that I’ve never paid much attention to the issue of preserving the art and culture of Europe (and the world) while Hitler made his mad dash for power. Enter The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History which follows the journey and adventures of ten specific people (9 men and 1 woman) who worked during the war to preserve culture. As the author of this book, Robert M. Edsel points out, these were men and women who saved “the world as we know it” to be, so to speak.
When I think of what was fought over during this war, I can’t claim that I would have given a second thought to people who specifically focused on saving ‘artistic achievements’ of the ancient and modern world. I had NO idea that on New Year’s Eve, 1942, the National Gallery in America secretly shipped 75 of its best works out of Washington D.C. and moved them to the Vanderbilt estate where they were kept hidden away until 1944. I never thought of issues museums faced with moving their valued pieces and shifting exhibits around to safeguard their artwork. I also have to say that I never thought about the number of Jews who had pieces of, not only their own history, but artwork stolen from them and taken into Nazi custody. This is just an aspect of the 1940’s struggle which escaped me. This book was fascinating to read and I enjoyed it very much.
If this sounds intriguing to you, then you must check out The Monuments Men. Edsel offers a poignant tale of men and women who risked their lives to preserve and protect items that weren’t at the top of everyone’s priority list and yet, nevertheless, are a part of each of our histories (whether we realize it or not). Edsel does a fantastic job backing up this story with facts, memos, and personal testimonies and he writes in a very engaging manner. He tells of men and women who were passionate about what they believed in and are deserving of no small amount of respect or honor. I am so thankful to Edsel for documenting their story – OUR story – which likely would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
It is easy to overlook the sacrifices that other people would make on our behalf. Thankfully Edsel doesn’t intend to let us do that this time.