Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel

I saw the movie with my family right after it came out. I meant to read the book right after I saw the movie but somehow it got put off until now.  Once I started the book, though, I couldn't stop reading.

Near the end of WWII a group of men - most of whom worked in museums in the states - realized that a lot of culture was being lost. due to bombings as well as Hitler's book burnings and his robbing the Jews, Polish, and others. These men realized that if so much was lost there would be nothing for these people to go back and build on when the war ended and they would, if not fade out of existence, lose their heritage.

Deciding something had to be done, the Monuments Men was formed and quite a few older men shipped over seas about the same time as the Normandy invasion. Instead of fighting, their goal was to keep historical buildings in one piece, to stop Hitler from destroying valuable art, and to recover what they could of the things he had stolen.

Their mission wasn't easy or safe. Though they weren't on the front lines, they had little support from the army who just wanted the war to end and were willing to bomb anything to accomplish that. Also, they had to take into consideration there were young men fighting and dying, and sometimes the best way to keep them alive was to destroy historical buildings. (It became harder once they got into Germany and saw the camps. At that point the world realized what the solders were fighting for and a lot of people ended up hating the German people. The Monuments Men sometimes didn't care if their cities were destroyed because they saw what had happened to the Jews and others. Often they had to remind themselves not all Germans were Nazis and even they deserved to have their past kept alive and safe so that they might have something to build their futures on.)

All of these men were amazing. They got little if no credit for what they did even though most of them worked impossibly long hours and got little sleep. They knew that if the Jews lost their heritage Hitler would win. (The same idea has happened in history. If a culture loses their past they fade from history. Hitler knew this, he knew if he couldn't kill all the Jews he could at least take everything from them which would accomplish what the death camps couldn't.)

Thanks to the hard work of men like George Stout, James Rorimer, Harry Ettlinger (whom I loved to read about. He was a German Jew, forced to flee Germany as a boy) and Rose Villad - a brave French woman who quietly defied the Nazis even at risk of her own life - the Jews, Polish, and so many others didn't lose their past and a lot of paintings and sculptures we have now were saved. (They saved many of Van Gogh's, Burgess Madonna, as well as the Ghent Alterpiece.

I think everyone should read this book and see the movie. What these men did amazes me and their story is just as important as any WWII story.

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