World War II? Missing artwork? Art professionals as detectives? Heck yeah, I’m in.
I’m working my way through The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, And The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History. It’s a thick book (over 450 pages) but so enjoyable if you’re a history lover or art lover.
It’s strange. I thought I knew quite a bit about World War II as the result of history classes and my own reading, but new and fascinating tidbits keep appearing on the world stage. I’d heard that some precious artwork had gone missing during World War II (Germany claimed it was “safeguarding” this art), but I had no idea of the extent of it. The Monuments Men helped to track down millions of artistic works and got them back.
The book is an insightful look at the sheer volume of stolen art, the difficulty of tracking it down, the bureaucracy and limited resources that the Monuments Men had and the amazing work that they did in recovering the art from multiple countries. Each of the Monuments Men had to gather hints and tips from multiple sources, piece them together and patiently follow every lead until they got the art back.
The book also discusses Rose Valland, a French museum employee at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris (which became a repository for stolen pieces) who was instrumental in helping the Allies. This amazing woman risked a lot — even her life — in spying on the Germans inside the museum, keeping tabs on where artworks went after the Germans took them and provided invaluable information to assist the Allies. She rescued about 60,000 works of art. Now that’s one person who I wish I could have known; she would have amazing stories to tell, I bet.
It was quite the surprise to find out that Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria was used as a repository for some of the stolen works. I get it, though. Tons of storage space (!) and bombing it would be VERY bad public relations.
Getting the art up and down the hill would be a royal pain. Neuschwanstein Castle sits at the top of a cliff ridge and the road to get there is steep. I should know — I’ve walked it, with foot blisters. (But that’s another story…..)
I’ve yet to see The Monuments Men movie (don’t you love the alliteration?), but I can’t wait to see it. It looks like it’ll be just as good as the book!
For your entertainment, here’s a YouTube featurette video made with one of the Monuments Men and the book’s author. Enjoy! (Video credit: 20th Century Fox UK.)