August 24, 2009
Saving Europe's Greatest Treasures
From 1939 through the last months of the war, the Nazi army seized priceless paintings,
sculptures, tapestries and more, from museums, palaces, cathedrals, private homes,
even tiny chapels—the Nazis plundered everything, carting off the cultural history of
every nation they entered.
But just as the Allied Forces fought to save the Western
world, others fought to save Western Civilization. They were
“the Monuments Men,” a handful of soldiers given a unique
assignment: to preserve the cultural soul of Europe by protecting
Europe’s art. Robert M. Edsel’s masterful book The
Monuments Men shares their story, in a tale that is part history,
part war story and part treasure hunt. Undermanned,
undersupplied and with virtually no authority, the Monuments
Men (and women) faced bullets, bombs and Nazi
booby traps to rescue works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Vermeer,
Michelangelo and more.
Edsel and his co-author, Bret Witter, have crafted an account
that moves like a Hollywood action adventure, with
scenes ranging from a peasant’s cottage in the middle of an
artillery battle, to the depths of an ancient salt mine. There
are heroes to root for, villains to hiss at and an increasingly
pressing race against time as the Nazis, in a last vicious act of
defiance, set about to destroy the art rather than give it up.
Edsel and Witter interviewed the few surviving Monuments
Men, examined family letters and even Nazi archives
in their research. Whether you’re a fan of art, military history
or stories of real-life heroes, The Monuments Men is a
treasure worth the hunt.
Howard Shirley is a writer in Franklin, Tennessee.