From 1943 to 1951, 350 or so men and women from thirteen Allied
nations served as the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Arts and
Archives section (MFAA) of the Allied armed forces, the eyes, ears and
hands of the first and most ambitious effort in history to preserve the
world’s cultural heritage in times of war.
They were known simply as
Monuments Men. But during the thick of the fighting in Europe, from
D-Day to V-E Day, when Germany surrendered, there were only sixty-five
Monuments Men in the forward operating area. Sixty-five men to cover
thousands of square miles, save hundreds of damaged buildings and find
millions of cultural items before the Nazis could destroy them forever.
Monuments Men is the story of eight of these men in the forward
operating theatre: America’s top art conservator; an up-and-coming
young museum curator; a sculptor; a straight-arrow architect; a gay New
York cultural impresario; and an infantry private with no prior
knowledge of or appreciation for art, but first-hand experience as a
victim of the Nazi regime.
They built their own treasure maps from scraps and hints: the diary of
a Louvre curator who secretly tracked Nazi plunder through the Paris
rail yards; records recovered from bombed out cathedrals and museums;
overheard conversations; a tip from a dentist while getting a root
canal. They started off moving in different directions, but ended up
heading for the same place at the same time: the Alps near the
German-Austrian border in the last two weeks of the war, where the
great treasure caches of the Nazis were stored: the artwork of Paris,
stolen mostly from Jewish collectors and dealers; masterworks from the
museums of Naples and Florence; and the greatest prize of all, Hitler’s
personal hoard of masterpieces, looted from the most important art
collections and museums in Europe and hidden deep within a working salt
mine - a mine the Nazis had every intention of destroying before it
fell into Allied hands.
How does the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History end? As is often the
case, history is often more extraordinary than fiction.
About The Author
Robert Edsel is the author of Rescuing Da Vinci, a photographic
essay book providing the first comprehensive visual documentation of
Hitler and the Nazis’ theft of Europe’s great art and its rescue by
America and her Allies. He is also co-producer of a documentary film
entitled The Rape of Europa. Edsel began his business career as an
independent oil and gas producer in 1981. For the next five years he
and his family lived in Europe, three years of which were spent
renovating a villa and its gardens in Florence.
'After World War Two I served as a British member of the 'Monuments' section in Germany. Our task, I believe, was truly important - we were restoring to Europe evidence of its own civilization, which the War seemed virtually to have destroyed - and I was lucky to have had a chance to participate. It is excellent that Mr Edsel has now recorded this remarkable episode, and I am grateful to him for devoting so much energy to telling the stories of those involved.' Anne Olivier Bell
'In the great storytelling tradition of my longtime friend, Stephen Ambrose, Monuments Men is a marvelous addition to the many great books on World War II and is a reminder that we fought to save western civilization as well as our freedom. Robert Edsel's brilliant work tells the story of how a small unit of American soldiers raced across the front lines in Europe to rescue the art treasures of western culture that had been stolen by the Nazis. Edsel's book is a thriller, in the style of Indiana Jones, but in this case it's all fact and great history. I read the book from cover to cover - couldn't put it down!' Dr. Gordon 'Nick' Mueller, CEO/President and co-founder of the National World War II Museum
'Highly readable ... a remarkable history.' Washington Post
'Engaging and inspiring.' Publishers Weekly