The Monuments Men

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The Monuments Men, by Robert M.Edsel, chronicles the massive looting by the German occupiers in Europe during World War II of art, artifacts, and in fact anything that could somehow be detached from its position and moved.  The monuments men of the title are the small group of mostly American and British soldiers of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the allied forces who were sent to find and retrieve the stolen treasures.

It’s a fascinating story, including cat and mouse games between brave defenders of their nations cultural icons and the rapacious conquerors, and detective work involving dangerous journeys in places where battles were still raging.  of course, many irreplaceable works of art were nevertheless lost or damaged, including hundreds of paintings by Klee, Miro, and other modern masters which were simply burned when the Nazis reached Paris.

Before the invasion of northern Europe, General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces,  issued an order instructing all commanders to preserve centers and objects of historical and cultural significance.  His foresight mitigated the loss and destruction.  It’s hard to avoid the comparison with the looting of the museum in Baghdad after the invasion of Iraq, whose military planners apparently never studied Eisenhower during their training.

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