August 25, 2009
Saving Europe's Art from the Nazis
William Lee Adams
As World War II raged, Adolf Hitler retained an ambition to build the world's finest museum in his hometown of Linz, Austria. He planned to call it the Führermuseum and hoped to stock it with the greatest works of art from around the globe — which he would obtain by looting collections and museums in occupied territories and hiding them until the war ended.
From 1942 until 1951, 365 men and women serving in the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives division (MFAA) of the Allied forces dedicated themselves to stopping Hitler's dream from becoming a reality. Known simply as the Monuments Men, they recovered Nazi records from bombed-out cathedrals and followed leads across the continent in a bid to recover Europe's most splendid treasures.
In his new book Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, American writer and art detective Robert Edsel tells the stories of seven of them, including America's top art conservator, a sculptor and an openly gay infantry private. Edsel spoke with TIME about the challenges they faced.