The Heroes

Museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, librarians and educators.

The “Monuments Men," were a group of approximately 345 men and women from 14 nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Section during World War II. Many had expertise as museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, librarians and educators. Only their job description was simple: to protect cultural treasures so far as war allowed.

    A Shared Mission   

To save cultural treasures from the destructiveness of war and theft by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis

On June 23, 1943, President Roosevelt approved the formation of the "American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas" widely known as "The Roberts Commission," after its chairman, Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts. The work of the "Harvard Group" and the "American Council of Learned Societies" contributed to its establishment. 

Thus was born the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (“MFAA") section under the auspices of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied Armies. Together the Monuments Men worked to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II. About two dozen Monuments Men braved the front lines to track, locate, and recover looted objects. Their work was dangerous: two Monuments Men were killed in combat while protecting works of art. 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 to the countries from which they had been taken. Their role in preserving cultural treasures was without precedent.

Several hundred Monuments Men and Women remained in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Japan for up to six years after the conclusion of hostilities to coordinate the return of stolen works of art, and other cultural objects to the countries from which they had been stolen. 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. By the time the last Monuments Man left Europe in 1951, they had overseen the return of some five million cultural objects.

Upon returning home, many of the Monuments Men and Women resumed their leadership positions at some of the most prominent cultural and educational institutions in the United States, England, and other Western Allied nations. They would, in time, advance even further, becoming directors and curators of world renowned museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, National Gallery of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Toledo Museum of Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the Tate Gallery. One Monuments Man co-founded the New York City Ballet. Others contributed to the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Even the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict is predicated on the achievements of the Monuments Men during and after the war.

Three Monuments Men are still living: Richard Barancik, Nicholas Defino and Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite.

"The credit belongs to the officers and men of the combat echelons whose veneration for priceless treasures persisted, even in the heat and fears of battle.” General Dwight D. Eisenhower Acceptance remarks Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1946

   We Need Your Help   

Our research on each of the Monuments Men and Women is ongoing. We appeal to the public for help in completing their biographies. If you have information or photographs, or believe someone should be added to these lists, please contact us.

© Monuments Men Foundation 2019