Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Monuments Men

Most people are well aware of the many and varied types of struggles against Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II. However, not many people that I speak with are aware of how disruptive and nearly destructive the war was to the artistic heritage of all of Europe. As part of Hitler’s overall campaign, he would strip entire museums (to include the Louvre) and galleries in occupied cities with the intent on purging all of the degenerate works, hoarding the remainder for the Germany. The vast majority of this art was stored in train cars, buildings, caves, and even old mines until the Nazis could catalogue it all. However, when the Allies began to push the Nazis back, each cache of art was rigged to explode, with orders to not let in fall into the hands of the Allies. Monuments Men is the story of a small group of soldiers who formed a special unit with the intent of quite literally saving the artistic heritage of the Western World.

The soldiers in this unit ranged from Second Lieutenant James J Rorimer, the Curator of the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, to Private First Class Lincoln Kirstein, Founder of the New York City Ballet. The tale follows the men, from their training in England to a salt mine in Altuasse, Austria, that contained the largest cache of art and was rigged with bombs in crates marked as marble sculpture. Over the course of this journey, the Monuments Men would follow and occasionally race ahead of US Army units actively engaged in combat. This includes one Monuments Man that had to keep up with Gen. Patton! Fans of art history and Word War II alike, will find this to be a fascinating story who took it upon themselves to rescue something easily overlooked in the middle of the war, works of art.
As a side note, there is plans to make the book, or at least portions of it into a movie. To keep tabs on this project or learn more information regarding the Monuments Men and their work visit http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/  

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