Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Monuments Men - Robert Edsel

Summary:  At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Führer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: "degenerate" works he despised.

In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. 

Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world's great art from the Nazis. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  There is so much more to the history of World War II than I ever realized.  I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the war itself.  I've spent years studying the Jewish Holocaust.  But Hitler's other aim--to rebuild Linz as the Heart of Culture, furnishing it and bedecking it with every priceless piece of art he could find--is a newer field for me.  It's a shame that it's taken this long for the story to be told.

I spent about a year and a half living in Austria and Southern Germany, and my first area was Linz.  I knew it had been razed during the War (Allied revenge), but the artistic component  was new to me.  This connection to the locations in the book riveted me.  It made the urgency and the drive so much more real.  The obstacles that the Monuments Men had to overcome, the fear and very real danger that missing art had been destroyed or otherwise lost forever to the world, and the games of intrigue these poor men had to play fascinated me.  I really had a hard time putting the book down!

This isn't your typical action-on-every-page war book.  The MFAA were constricted by an astounding amount of red tape - not only from their end, but from the provisional governments they were working with.  Don't forget some of the worst offenders passing themselves off as unwilling or conscripted workers in this facet of the Nazi Machine.  My poor husband kept getting elbowed and facts thrown his way - I think he honestly appreciates that I finished the book!  

It should come as no surprise that while there is no longer an MFAA branch, the work of these men is ongoing.  Art stolen or looted by the Nazis is still displaced - either in a basement, hidden away, or hanging on the wall of a museum who doesn't care to trace the ownership.  I'd love to hear more in the future how the work is going.

My Review:  Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The only thing that greatly offended me was the recounting of masterpieces lost to the flames because they didn't please Hitler.  However, if you can swallow the artistic loss, pick this book up.  Soon.

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