Manuela Hoelterhoff

Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- While the Royal Air Force shot down his fighter planes in the Battle of Britain, Field Marshal Hermann Goering sifted through piles of stolen pictures at Paris’s Jeu de Paume. His country palace of Karinhall had a few empty acres of wall space.

The Nazis spent so much time looting art, you wonder if the war might have gone better for them had they concentrated exclusively on winning it. Instead of adorning the new Reich’s cultural citadels, the loot ended up stuffed into tunnels, mines, bunkers, caves and castles.

Remarkably, thousands of works survived, thanks in part to the “Monuments Men,” who were attached to a cultural preservation unit sanctioned by President Roosevelt and General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

They helped safeguard Europe’s treasures in the chaotic end and aftermath of the war.

Robert M. Edsel, in an earlier life a Texas oil man, has devoted a richly detailed new book to their courageous devotion: “The Monuments Men.” We spoke in Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.

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