• 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.
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.)
Bret Witter cowrote the bestseller Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (2008). He lives in Louisville, KY.
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