Carl Brookins's Reviews > The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
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Jan 31, 10

Read in December, 2009

Not a mystery, and not fiction, but the story rooted in the fog of war and the number of questions still unanswered reads like the best mystery fiction. Not a thriller, but full of thrilling, death-defying action, a book written with passion and fire, if not the most meticulous attention to structure and detail, this cautionary tale should be part of the required reading at the Naval Academy, West Point and the Air Force Academy.
It should also be read by every national politician who contemplates sending invading armies to foreign lands.
Beginning in 1938 and lasting until the final days of World War II, Nazi conquerors in Europe and North Africa, began methodical and illegal acquisition of both public and private cultural works of art in the nations under their control.
By the millions, paintings, sculptures, tapestries furniture and prints were collected, logged and shipped to Germany. Some pieces went to Hitler, others to Goring, Borman, Himmler and other party officials. The owners, many wealthy members of the Jewish middle class, after watching their belongings plundered, were themselves shipped off to labor and concentration camps.
In 1943 a small group of ordinary men were recruited by the American government in anticipation of the western invasion of Europe These men, active in the cultural affairs of the United States, formed the Monuments , Fine Arts and Archives section. With no resources other than what they could scrounge, the FAA were given a single mission: locate, assess and protect the cultural heritage of the European continent. They often worked at the very edges of the battle lines. Through persuasion, persistence and high commitment, the members of MFAA and the small number of European supporters they were able to attract, were victorious in saving many buildings and large works of immovable culture from destruction by bombing and other effects of the war.
MFAA men went ashore in the early waves at Normandy and traveled with the armies. They experienced the hardships of front-line activity and two of the members died as a result of combat. Throughout they stayed true to their mission, protecting cultural monuments and following tortuous trails of records and information gleaned in endless interrogations of Nazi party members involved in the theft and shipping of vast numbers of art and cultural items to secret hideouts in castles like Neuschwanstein and the salt mines of Merkers.
A great many pieces perhaps thousands of significant Impressionist and other paintings along with other art are still missing. Some will continue to be located and returned to the descendents of rightful owners, some of the art is lost forever.
This story of the MFAA, mostly lost in time, needs to be retold for history does repeat itself. In 2002 invading American military allowed looters to nearly destroy the thousand years old collection that was held by the Baghdad National Museum. There is now a project to locate and return missing artifacts. Had this story of the MFAA been preserved and properly recorded, there might have been the proper actions taken to protect the collections in Iraq.
The Monuments Men is a fascinating story that needs to be retold.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Ashley (new) - added it

Ashley Yes, yes, yes. If this was on Facebook, I would give you 10 thumbs up. The only way to make the future better is to know the struggles and successes of the past.

Carl Brookins thank you

Jessica I agree. At the end of the book when the author discusses the lack of MFAA in any following conflicts was the saddest part of the book. I would love to see this become a part of our military training.

Molly Owens Totally agree that this should be required reading at all the academies. Shocking how little man seems to learn from the past. I was amazed that this story was new to me. I will be teaching it in the Fall. Loved it and your review.

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