From 1939 through the last months of the war, the Nazi army seized priceless paintings, sculptures, tapestries and more, from museums, palaces, cathedrals, private homes, even tiny chapels—the Nazis plundered everything, carting off the cultural history of every nation they entered.
But just as the Allied Forces fought to save the Western world, others fought to save Western Civilization. They were “the Monuments Men,” a handful of soldiers given a unique assignment: to preserve the cultural soul of Europe by protecting Europe’s art. Robert M. Edsel’s masterful book The Monuments Men shares their story, in a tale that is part history, part war story and part treasure hunt. Undermanned, undersupplied and with virtually no authority, the Monuments Men (and women) faced bullets, bombs and Nazi booby traps to rescue works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Vermeer, Michelangelo and more.
Edsel and his co-author, Bret Witter, have crafted an account that moves like a Hollywood action adventure, with scenes ranging from a peasant’s cottage in the middle of an artillery battle, to the depths of an ancient salt mine. There are heroes to root for, villains to hiss at and an increasingly pressing race against time as the Nazis, in a last vicious act of defiance, set about to destroy the art rather than give it up.
Edsel and Witter interviewed the few surviving Monuments Men, examined family letters and even Nazi archives in their research. Whether you’re a fan of art, military history or stories of real-life heroes, The Monuments Men is a treasure worth the hunt.
Howard Shirley is a writer in Franklin, Tennessee.