The Monuments Men Foundation honors the legacy of the men and women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, known as the “Monuments Men,” and their unprecedented and heroic work protecting and safeguarding civilization’s most important artistic and cultural treasures from armed conflict. During its first twelve years of operations, the Foundation successfully raised worldwide awareness about the Monuments Men and Women through film, television, and books, honored their military service through the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States, and preserved their legacy through a partnership with the National World War II Museum making the Foundation’s incomparable archives and artifacts accessible to students and scholars around the world. In October 2019, the Museum broke ground on its Liberation Pavilion, which will feature a permanent exhibition about the Monuments Men, the first of its kind.
As the Foundation begins its second decade of operations, its focus will now shift to longer term objectives. In addition to locating and returning works of art and other cultural objects to their rightful owners, the Foundation will put the remarkable legacy of the Monuments Men and Women to work through custom-designed programs that not only educate and inform our youth, but challenge them to become the Monuments Men and Women of tomorrow. With world governments facing ever increasing demands for funding, no nation has the financial resources to fund the preservation of all of its national treasures. Consequently, preserving our shared cultural heritage for future generations depends on informing and inspiring our youth to meet the challenges ahead. It is an ambitious agenda, but one that pales in comparison to the challenge confronting the handful of Monuments Officers who conceived of the concept of cultural preservation officers in the midst of the most destructive war in history, without the use of any tools of technology. What they achieved not only informs the mission of the Foundation, it will serve as an inspiring guide to students, educators, military and world leaders, and the general public.
Returning Cultural Objects
The Foundation will continue to build on its success locating missing works of art and other cultural objects and returning them to their rightful owners.
Hundreds of thousands of cultural objects that disappeared during and after World War II remain missing today. Some are in the United States. To date, the Foundation has successfully located and returned to rightful owners - private collectors, public museums and libraries, and national archives - more than 30 objects, including paintings and drawings, tapestries, rare books and documents. Many of these objects are priceless – some, of the highest historical importance. The Foundation serves all constituencies, from victims of the Holocaust, to veterans, to foreign governments or local museums. Return ceremonies are vitally important to our cause, as they encourage others to come forward. Reuniting people with their lost belongings is at the core of our mission.
The Foundation will continue to use its heightened visibility in the court of public opinion to influence select restitution claims. Leveraging the visibility of our work through our extensive list of media and law enforcement contacts enables the Foundation to highlight grievous and problematic cases and influence the outcome.
The Foundation's "Most Wanted" lists of missing works of art and cultural objects constitute the first cross-border database of wartime property. This approach makes searches for high-profile objects easy for individuals and institutions seeking to recover their missing property, and easy for the media and general public to understand. Its toll free tip line [1-866-WWII-ART, or 1-866-994-4278], the first service of its kind, provides a simple path for those who may be in possession or have knowledge of missing objects to come forward with vital information. Many of the Foundation’s successful returns have been the result of exactly these type of leads. It is a proven method of broadening the search for such objects. The Foundation staff is presently researching hundreds of leads it has received from people of good will. More discoveries are sure to follow.
Educating Future Leaders
Protecting cultural treasures is a relentless challenge yet timeless obligation.
The achievements of the Monuments Men and Women during the most destructive conflict in history continue to inspire and guide our work. As part of its mission to honor the legacy of the Monuments Men to enhance the appreciation of art and cultural heritage as an essential part of understanding humankind, the Foundation is developing educational programs for schools and museums. The story of the Monuments Men and Women allows to tackle important subjects (Holocaust, art preservation, World War II) in a new and age-appropriate way, so that even the youngest audience can begin their understanding of the transversal power of culture as well as the danger that hatred, racism and ignorance cause on our civilization. Based on the many examples of excellence from the past, the objective is to inject an intellectual curiosity in children and drive them to not only understand who we are as a civilization, but also explore potentials of what each of them could be and become as individuals.
The Foundation is developing programs on two fronts that target local audiences through strategic partnerships, and global audiences through the use of technology and social media. In the Fall of 2019, the Foundation announced its partnership with the George W. Bush Presidential Center to offer students and visitors monthly presentations about the Monuments Men and Women and their role in preserving our shared cultural heritage. We plan to extend these presentations to other libraries and institutions across Texas and the United States, in particular to institutions with strong connections to specific men and women who served as Monuments Officers. Foundation staff also provides regular online assistance to an ever-increasing number of students and teachers, who choose the Monuments Men as a subject for their papers, classes and dissertations, in particular surrounding National History Day. It has conducted webinars and workshops and delivered several ad hoc presentations to local schools, delivering content that meets the educators’ wishes and curricula needs.
The opening of the permanent Monuments Men Gallery at the National World War II Museum’s Liberation Pavilion in 2021 will provide an opportunity for over 750,000 annual visitors to learn about these heroes of civilization and their wartime service. The Foundation is also designing a traveling exhibition, to be displayed in public spaces across the country. This will be an economical and approachable way to reach national audiences.
The Foundation will work towards the creation of an annual “Monuments Men” Award, to be bestowed on an individual or institution that best upholds the principles and ideals of the Monuments Men and Women through their extraordinary contribution to the protection of civilization’s most important artistic and cultural treasures.
Preserving the Heroes' Legacy
Cultural treasures of past ages haven’t survived by accident. Others before us, including the Monuments Men and Women, risked their lives to ensure the survival of our shared cultural heritage for future generations.
The Foundation has developed an ongoing relationship with U.S. Army Civil Affairs soldiers who continue to be deployed to conflict areas in Iraq, Afghanistan, and countries in Africa. It has been invited on base to participate in briefings about their work today and share the experiences of their predecessors during World War II. Over the next year, the Foundation will be strengthening these relationships and providing guidance to reserve officers on how to build on the legacy of their wartime predecessors. The Foundation will also be enhancing its working relationships with major policing forces responsible for protecting cultural property including the FBI Art Looting team in Washington D.C. and the Cultural Heritage Protection Unit of the Carabinieri (Italian Military Police).
Through the George Clooney-directed film which had theatrical runs in more than 100 countries, the Foundation has greatly contributed to the discussion of protecting our shared cultural heritage. Its work has made the protection of monuments and other cultural property a “fashionable” subject for our youth, and many professionals who for years have labored in the shadows doing work critical to the protection of countless monuments and other cultural sites. The Foundation’s leadership role in raising visibility about these heroes’ achievements has already influenced recent announcements by the United Kingdom and the United States of their respective intentions to reconstitute modern-day Monuments Men units within their armed forces. In the years ahead, the Foundation is committed to encouraging other nations to do the same.
The Foundation will continue to play an active role encouraging institutions and individuals, in the United States and abroad, to know about the wartime provenance of objects in their collection in compliance with the American Association of Museum’s best practices guidelines concerning Nazi era provenance. It will encourage those cultural and educational institutions impacted by the Monuments Men and Women – which includes most every major museum and university in the United States – to honor their wartime service and professional legacy through some form of permanent on-site recognition.
Building on our Legacy of Accomplishments
The Foundation began operations on June 6, 2007, at a time when no one but a few scholars knew anything about the Monuments Men and Women. Today, “Monuments Men” is a ubiquitous term used by volunteers in lands afar to proudly describe their efforts to protect cultural treasures in their homeland. Media coverage of this subject no longer defines the term, further confirmation that the phrase has entered the global conscience. In its first decade of operations, the Foundation compiled comprehensive biographies on all 350 Monuments Men and Women marking the first time anyone knew who these individuals were and each of their particular roles during and after the war. It remains the only such database in the world. This information resides on the Foundation website, available to scholars, law enforcement officials, and the general public alike, all at no cost to the public. The Foundation has also donated the database program, with enhanced information, to the National WWII Museum for use in a kiosk inside the Monuments Men Gallery. Visitors will be able to find their local connection to the Monuments Men and Women through a variety of searches.
For Its work preserving the legacy of these scholar-soldiers, the Foundation received from the President of the United States the National Humanities Medal, our nation’s highest honor for work in the humanities. In 2014, following nine years of effort, the Foundation, working without a single lobbyist, succeeded in gaining passage of a bill in Congress, signed into law by President Obama, awarding the Monuments Men and Women of all fourteen nations the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation’s highest civilian honor.