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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 Fuehrer Had Begun Cataloguing The Art He Planned To Collect As Well As The Art He Would Destroy Degenerate Works He DespisedIn 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 Momuments Men, Risked Their Lives Scouring Europe To Prevent The Destruction Of Thousands Of Years Of CultureFocusing 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 To think I almost didn t read this five star book because I plan to see the movie That would have been a terrible mistake The movie is based loosely on the book Very loosely indeed Robert M Edsel s The Monuments Men is a nonfiction account of a group of mostly American art historians, museum curators, and one very special art conservationist from Harvard s Fogg Museum, George Stout To give you an idea of the stature of these men in the art world, after the war they went on to become the heads of New York s Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Isabella Stewart Gardner, The National Gallery, The Frick, The Fogg, The Yale University Art Gallery, The Balti, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Dallas, Toledo, Brooklyn, and Worster Art Galleries, and the Library of Congress One of them was Lincoln Kirstein, who with Balanchine created the New York City Ballet.Theirs was a particularly difficult job Just a few men, most of them in their 40s and much too old for army service in the middle of a vicious war Kirstein lost 45 pounds during his six weeks of basic training with men half his age But he and the others tracked down and protected our Western art heritage from the rapacious Germans, especially Hitler and Goring, who stole millions of art objects from the countries they conquered and from the particularly fine collections of Jewish families like the Rothchilds and Seligmanns.The story really began in 1943 Leptis Magna with Lieutenant Colonel Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler of the Royal Artillery The British North African Army had reached the ruins of the great city of the Emperor Serverus The British had held the area earlier until they were pushed back into Egypt by Rommel When the Italians reached the area they published a story of British destruction of the site, smashed statues, empty columns, collapsing structures, graffiti on the museum walls.The accusations were false The place had been collapsing on its own for 2000 years and the columns were empty because the Italians had taken the statues themselves The graffiti was not on museum walls and it was just inches away from the graffiti the Italians had left in the area.But the British had no way of countering the Italian claims of Allied destruction They had no archaeologists or historians in North Africa Now the British were back in Leptis Magnis and they really were destroying the site Trucks and tanks were routed over the paving stones of the ruins of the old city and Wheeler was appalled He went to the Civil Affairs officers and pointed out they really were destroying the site this time, the most complete Roman ruin in all Africa Never heard of it, said the officer.Wheeler tried to explain the importance of the site Are you a historian asked the officer I m an archaeologist, Wheeler replied, Director of the London Museum Then do something about it, Director With the help of a colleague from the London Museum, Wheeler rerouted traffic, photographed the site, posted guards, and organized repairs.And the men respected their attempts to preserve the site Throughout the story of The Monuments Men the art conservators and historians and curators found that if they told the troops about the towns and regions they were fighting for the men became increasingly curious and wanted to know Lincoln Kirstein wrote histories of the cities of Metz, Nancy, and Achen which were read eagerly by the troops.It was hard work One man would be attached to an entire Army and with a rank of lieutenant and no transportation, no typewriter, no paper even, they were trying to alert the men with sufficiently high rank to do something to preserve what they found after the battles in eastern France and Belgium Time and again they arrived to discover the Germans had just days before taken monumentally important art objects such as Michaelangelo s Bruges Madonna and the Ghent Altarpiece of Van Eyck Taken them east into Germany to protect them from the uncivilized American barbarians.I didn t think I was going to be impressed with what I thought was a military history with a patina of art laid on But of course the book was not that at all You do have to know which British or American, or for that matter, Soviet army is where because the men assigned to the American groups were responsible for the area taken by the soldiers.Meanwhile, back in liberated Paris 2nd Lieutenand James Rorimer was learning from the head of French Museums, who had been part of the Resistance, what had been taken by whom and when And that a volunteer assistant at the Jeu de Paume named Rose Valland had repeatedly risked her life throughout the occupation spying on the Germans, keeping elaborate notes, photographs, and copies of receipts for art work that was chosen by Goring during than 20 trips to the museum and sent to his house outside Berlin and to Hitler Much of this art was from the collections of the Jewish families of Paris and it was because of Valland s work that so many of these works were returned to the owners after the war.As Germany crumbled it became a race for the monuments men to reach the hiding places in central and southern part of the country where most of the stolen art was stored The largest deposit of art was in a salt mine in Altausse which was in danger of being completely destroyed at the command of Hitler at the end of the war In addition, this was part of the area that was going to be under the control of the Russians The art recovered by the British and Americans was returned, all of it, to the country or individual who had owned it before the war, including those pieces taken from German churches and museums and stored for safekeeping The Soviets were stealing everything they could get their hands on and were so careless with the caches of art they found that hundreds of important paintings were destroyed by rioting and fire.The movie is a movie There s apparently a totally fictitious love story, and the characters do not carry the names of the men who did the things the actors portray in the film Reviews haven t been that great, but I m looking forward to seeing George Clooney, Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville, Bill Murray, and John Goodman portray the heroic monuments men. It s odd how you think your opinion of a bunch of murderous assholes couldn t sink any lower, and then you read something like this that makes you realize that they were even worse than you thought Nazis weren t just xenophobic bullies who institutionalized mass murder, they were also thieves They were probably lousy tippers, too During World War II a handful of art experts in the Allied military forces took on the challenge of trying to protect the cultural treasures of Europe As the war raged, these guys did their best to save historical buildings and art from the general destruction going on around them They also tried to track down and recover what the Nazis had stolen Hitler and his pals took advantage of the war to pull the biggest art heist in history, and this included looting the culture of countries they invaded as well as stealing the private collections of people they killed or imprisoned.This is one of those stories that I knew the basics of but hadn t realized the scale of the crimes committed, and I knew nothing about the men who tried to mitigate the damage The Nazis literally stole trainloads worth of art and stashed away so much that it required massive logistical efforts just to get it all recorded and returned after the war What s shocking than that is how few resources were initially dedicated to the preservation effort Eisenhower issued a general order instructing his troops to avoid damaging anything of cultural significance unless there was a military necessity, but only a handful of Monuments Men were scattered around Europe and they had no official support staff or supply sources Simply getting transportation was often difficult or impossible One of the men was briefly arrested as a suspected German spy when a zealous MP soldier refused to believe that anyone carrying out such a large and important mission would be wandering around by himself.Even though there weren t many of them and they had to improvise constantly, the Monuments Men did manage to save countless pieces of art including helping to track down huge stolen stockpiles that the Nazis had stashed away in mines and other hidey holes It was dangerous work and a couple of them were killed in action while trying to carry out their mission.It s an interesting and important story that gave me a new appreciation of some of history s forgotten heroes so why only 3 stars I dunno This is a weird one I can t point to anything of significance The writing is fine, and the research seems solid There s enough detail pointed out about the people involved to give you a sense of their character and make you appreciate their struggles I was planning on seeing the movie version, but then came the meh reviews for it so that killed my interest in the film and may have dampened my enthusiasm for the book There s nothing particularly wrong with it, and I don t regret learning the story, but for some reason it never hit that next level where I couldn t wait to read while I was in the middle of it. Though it s a fascinating bit of history, largely overlooked, this book felt like a chore to get through There s a plodding to the writing, and a lot of repetitiveness Repetitiveness throughout Repeating himself in different ways, as though to pad out the book Repeat Also, it feels like there are a lot of shortcuts in the narrative instead of character development A few of the Monuments Men emerge with full personalities, but often the reader is told things like this brilliantly matched duo of two Monuments Men with wildly different approaches to life, to art, to the military were so interesting, but without any evidence whatsoever to back up the description And the villainous Nazis are literally described as villainous something the reader is already primed to expect, of course, but without any new light shed on it Descriptions of Goring and his fate routinely end with some variation of him being called a greedy fool This is not new information or interesting information Readers should be able to draw their own conclusions about the personalities, valorous or treacherous, without the author needing to explicitly tell us that at the end of each paragraph It s either lazy writing or a distrust of our ability to connect the dots.And then there are some laughably written lines that took me out of the intrigue and heroism entirely Here s one They had lined up the metal filings of their own destinies like so many dastardly magnets Worth the read to expose yourself to the work of the Monuments Men on a very general level, but beyond that a disappointment. A handful of art warriors take on the Third Reich in this story chock full of both intrigue and culture Read it before the movie starring George Clooney comes out.