I reviewed the movie The Monuments Men in an earlier issue of The Little Paper. I liked the movie, but felt it was a tad glib. I could tell there was more to the story, and indeed, the book The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter is stellar. It is the nonfiction story of WWII heroes who saved hundreds of thousands of pieces of art work from destruction. We meet the soldiers, art historians, and scholars who, thanks to General Eisenhower, became a very small group saddled with a large mission near the end of the war.
Hitler’s Nazis had plundered museums, churches, and private collections throughout France, Belgium, Poland, Italy, et al. Hitler had dreams of creating a huge museum someday in his hometown of Linz, Austria. Thus, massive amounts of paintings, sculptures, stained glass windows, jewelry, gold, ornamental pieces, and manuscripts were hidden in castles, salt mines, and even in private homes. Like detectives solving crimes, the Monuments Men worked to uncover the lost art and save it from being destroyed (the Germans rigged explosives in key spots). The Men were also racing against time as the Russians moved westward to claim territory and artwork.
This nonfiction book is fascinating. You get history, art, and personal stories mingled against the backdrop of the Alps and the horror of war. Here is one listing of finds from a salt mine at Altaussee on May 21, 1945
6577 paintings, 230 drawings or watercolors, 954 prints, 137 sculptures, 129 pieces of armor, 79 baskets of objects, 484 cases of archives, 78 pieces of furniture, 122 tapestries, 181 cases of books, 1200-1700 cases of book and papers, 283 cases of unknown content. (p 384) Wow! And that was just one of many hidden places.