The Monuments Men

The “Monuments Men," were a group of approximately 345 men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created MFAA section during World War II. Many had expertise as museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, and educators. Their job description was simple: to protect cultural treasures so far as war allowed.

Together the Monuments Men worked to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II. In the last year of the war, they tracked, located, and in the years that followed, returned more than five million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis. Their role in preserving cultural treasures was without precedent.

The Monuments Men remained in Europe for up to six years following the conclusion of fighting to oversee the complicated restitution of stolen works of art. During that time they played instrumental roles in rebuilding cultural life in the devastated countries of Europe by organizing temporary art exhibitions and musical concerts.

Upon returning home, many of the Monuments Men and women had extraordinarily prominent roles in building some of the greatest cultural and educational institutions in the United States. They became directors and curators of world renowned museums such as the Met, the MOMA, the National Gallery of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and many others. Other revered institutions, such as the New York City Ballet, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts, were the tangible results of ideas of the Monuments Men.