Monuments Men (Edsel)

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History 
Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter, 2009
Little, Brown and Co.
496 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781599951492

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 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 Momuments 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. (From the publisher.)

The 2014 movie stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchette, Bill Murray, John Goodman, among others.

Author Bios
Birth—December 28, 1956
Where—Oak Park, Illinois, USA
Raised—Dallas, Texas
Currently—lives in Dallas, Texas

Robert Morse Edsel is an American writer and businessman. He is the author of the non-fiction books Rescuing Da Vinci, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History and Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis, about art treasures preserved during and after World War II and the heroes who saved them. Edsel is the founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art which received the 2007 National Humanities Medal under President George W. Bush and has donated two albums of photographic evidence of the Third Reich's theft of art treasures to the United States National Archives.

Edsel was born in Oak Park, Illinois and raised in Dallas, Texas. He is the son of Norma Louise (nee Morse), a housewife, and Alpha Ray Edsel, a stockbroker. Edsel was formerly a nationally ranked tennis player. In 1981, he began his business career in oil and gas exploration. His company, Gemini Exploration, pioneered the use of horizontal drilling technology throughout the early 1990s. Gemini Exploration grew from a company with eight employees to almost 100. By 1995, Gemini had become the second most active driller of horizontal wells in the United States and Robert Edsel sold the company’s assets to Union Pacific Resources Company. The following year he moved to Europe with his family.

The Monuments Men
In the late 1990s, while living in Florence, Edsel began to think about the methods and planning used to keep art out of the hands of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Following a divorce in 2000, Edsel moved to New York City, where he began a serious effort to learn about and understand the issue. By 2004, those efforts had become a full time career, and he established a research office in Dallas, his hometown. By 2005, he had gathered thousands of photographs and other documents, and began writing the manuscript for Rescuing Da Vinci. The book was published in 2006 and received wide attention.

In September 2009, Edsel’s second book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, a narrative telling of the story of the Monuments Men, was released by Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group. Current plans include publication of the book in seventeen languages. George Clooney wrote, directed and starred in the movie, The Monuments Men.

In May 2013, Edsel's sequel to The Monuments Men, entitled Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis, was published by W. W. Norton.

Edsel co-produced a documentary film, The Rape of Europa, based on the book by Lynn Nicholas. Narrated by Joan Allen with extensive commentary by looted art specialist Jonathan Petropoulos, the film was well received by critics and began a theatrical run in September 2007 at the Paris Theatre in New York City. In addition, Mr. Edsel has created The Greatest Theft in History educational program, which includes the two-hour documentary film and seven hours of additional clips, as well as a companion website featuring lesson plans, glossaries, timelines and other resources which allows teachers to easily utilize this material for classroom use.

In 2007, Edsel created the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. The foundation's mission is ...

to preserve the legacy of the unprecedented and heroic work of the men and women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (“MFAA”) section, known as "Monuments Men," during World War II, by raising public awareness of the importance of protecting and safeguarding civilization’s most important artistic and cultural treasures from armed conflict, but incorporating these expressions of man's greatest creative achievements into our daily lives.

He announced the foundation's creation during a ceremony on June 6, 2007, the 63rd anniversary of D-Day, to celebrate Senate and House concurrent resolutions honoring the Monuments Men.

The Monuments Men Foundation was one of ten recipients of the 2007 National Humanities Medal, an honor which was presented by President Bush during a ceremony held in the East Room of The White House on November 15, 2007. The National Humanities Medal is the highest honor given for excellence in the Humanities field, and honors individuals and groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.

Nazi albums
During the course of his research into the whereabouts of lost art and efforts both to save and profit from knowledge of the crime, Edsel discovered the existence of two large, leather-bound photograph albums which documented portions of the European art looted by the Nazis. The two photographic albums were in the possession of heirs to an American soldier stationed in the Berchtesgaden area of Germany in the closing days of World War II.

The albums were created by the staff of the Third Reich’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), a special unit that found and confiscated the best material in Nazi-occupied countries, to use for exploitation. In France, the ERR engaged in an extensive and elaborate art looting operation, part of Hitler’s much larger premeditated scheme to steal art treasures from conquered nations.

The albums were created for Hitler and high-level Nazi officials as a catalogue and, more importantly, to give Hitler a way to choose the art for his art museum in Austria. A group of these photograph albums was presented to Hitler on his birthday in 1943, to "send a ray of beauty and joy into [his] revered life." ERR staff stated that nearly 100 such volumes were created during the years of their art looting operation.

Edsel worked with the owners of the albums to acquire them for preservation. In November 2007, at a ceremony with Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, Edsel announced the existence of these photograph albums to the public and, separately, donated the albums to the National Archives. Weinstein, called the discovery "one of the most significant finds related to Hitler’s premeditated theft of art and other cultural treasures to be found since the Nuremberg trials." (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/10/2014.)

Book Reviews
Were the Allied (mostly American) soldiers who rescued works of art stolen by the Nazis before and during World War II really heroes, as Robert M. Edsel claims in The Monuments Men, or were they good men—aided by one resourceful, determined French woman—who were simply, in the best sense of the phrase, just doing their jobs? My vote is for the latter…Still, for the most part they have receded into the fog of history…and that is a pity, so it is good to have them given recognition in The Monuments Men. It's a somewhat problematical boo…But it's a terrific story, and it certainly is good to give these men (and that one remarkable woman) their due.
Jonathan Yardley - Washington Post

WWII was the most destructive war in history and caused the greatest dislocation of cultural artifacts. Hundreds of thousands of items remain missing. The main burden fell to a few hundred men and women, curators and archivists, artists and art historians from 13 nations. Their task was to save and preserve what they could of Europe's great art.... The story is both engaging and inspiring. In the midst of a total war, armies systematically sought to mitigate cultural loss.
Publishers Weekly

Adolf Hitler's plan for the subjugation of the world included its culture and treasures. Art was to be taken from conquered countries and stored in Germany until Hitler could build the world's largest museum complex in his hometown of Linz, Austria. It was the job of the Monuments Men (as they came to be called) to track down these missing treasures during the latter years of the war.... [W]ill appeal to many general and military history readers.
Library Journal

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider using these LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for The Monuments Men:

1. "It was a good group, he had to admit. A group [Stout] himself might have chosen, if given the chance." Talk about the original group of 11 men put together to salvage the world's artwork. What made George Stoat believe that it was the right team for the job? What were the men's individual qualifications, both personal and professional?

2. What kind of man was George Stout? How would you describe James Rorimer? Why was his service so invaluable to the mission? Who else stood out among the Monuments Men?

3. What role did Rose Valland play? How critical was she to the success of the Monuments Men mission?

4. Why were the pieces of art so important to Hitler? Why was he so intent on creating his "Führermuseum...the largest, most imposing, most spectacular art museum in the world"?

5. Should the team who rescued the stolen art be elevated to the level of heroism as Robert M. Edsel indicates? Or should we consider them as good men doing a hard job very effectively—and extend our gratitude and respect?

6. Another question that must be asked is the degree of importance accorded to the mission. Is protecting art worth the price of a human life—or diverting resources otherwise used to protect lives? What do you think? What does Edsel suggest?

7. If you have seen the George Clooney directed movie, how does it compare to the book? What do you think of the's music (especially), visuals, and actors. If you haven't yet seen the film, do you intend to after reading and discussing the book?

8. What have you learned from reading The Monuments Men—about the war, the Nazis, and most of all about art?

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