Final Weeks: The Monuments Men Read-a-Long

Welcome to the final week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. For this discussion, we have read from Ch.29-end of the book.

Sorry for the delay.

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.

Here’s the read-a-long schedule:

Feel free to add your thoughts or questions.

Wow, for the last two sections, I’m again blown away by the modesty of these men and their accomplishments in the final years of WWII.  As the Nazis are running away with their tails between their legs, grabbing what they can, and destroying what they cannot take with them, the Monuments Men are pushing forward with their units to secure mines, castles, and holes in the earth to save precious art stolen not only from France but from personal collections.  The authors do an excellent job of giving not only the troop movements and the movements of the Nazis but also the more personal accounts of the Monuments Men, who are still struggling for supplies and support.

Even after finding the works of art, the men are pressured by deadlines beyond their control, as political leaders determine how to divide up the territories captured by the allied forces and the Soviets.  Rather than a week to take care of the art, George Stout finds that he has less than a few days.  Later the deadline is extended as the political powers squabbled about whether Austria’s territory was under the same deadline as Germany — a sense of confusion that Stout took full advantage of.

I am fascinated by these modest men and their accomplishments, and how they continued to praise one another.  Even when the war is over, there were still controversies…as people came out of the woodwork claiming to play roles in saving art or finding it.  Even the governments were involved in these controversies, which clearly has a lot to do with the legacy they wanted for their own people in the wake of the Nazi’s big loss.  Returning the work took six years after the end of the war, and there are still some pieces that are missing.

The existence of the death camps came to light as these men searched for art and the allied forces battled back against the Nazis.  It was interesting to see which of the Monuments Men decided to visit the camps and which did not, and what their respective reactions were and reasons were for seeing or not seeing the camps.  Beyond the destruction and looting of art, these men realized that the Nazi regime was even more destructive than they had imagined.

Some of the fun facts for me were that Lincoln Kirstein had written and published a book of poems, which unfortunately, my library system does not have and cannot be loaned through any of the other Maryland library branches, and George Stout had been a director of the Worcester Art Museum after WWII (1947), which is near my childhood home.

What were the most interesting parts for you?

What do you think? Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

Come back in December, for a read-a-long of Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien for the Vietnam War.

Monuments Men Read-a-Long Update

We’ll be postponing the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long for week three’s discussion of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter and discuss both section 3 and 4 on Oct. 31.  Sorry for the delay.

If you are playing catch-up, here’s discussion 1 and discussion 2.

Discussions 3 and 4 will be held next Friday, Oct. 31, for Ch. 29-the end of the book.

See you next week!

Week 2: The Monuments Men Read-a-Long

Welcome to the 2nd week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. For this discussion, we have read through Chap. 28.

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.

Here’s the read-a-long schedule:

Sorry today’s discussion is a little behind, but here are my initial thoughts and Anna will chime in later in the comments.  Feel free to add your thoughts or questions.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on section one of the read-a-long, and we look forward to the next section: Chap. 29-42.  We’ll post the next discussion on Friday, Oct. 24.

I’m curious to hear what other readers think about the Monuments men and if anyone has a favorite.  I really like Stout because he seems to make things happen, even if he has to think outside the box a lot, and I really like Rose Valland.  She’s enigmatic as well as unassuming, which made her a great spy for the French Resistance while France was occupied by Germany.  It got me thinking about whether someone else like her could have made it through the entire war without being caught and that maybe the fact that France is the hub of art and artists made it easier for her to survive the war right under the noses of the Nazis.  She recorded as much as she could about the art they took and where they took it, as well as the conversations she heard them have.  I cannot imagine stealing documents, copying them at home, and returning them to the Nazis with them none the wiser.

This section also had some photos, which made some of the pieces and people become more real for me, like the tapestry they talked about.  I had an idea what a tapestry from that period might look like, but the photo showed me it was much longer than I had imagined.  Does anyone else find that the pictures helped them visual the pieces of art and people?

One of my other favorite anecdotes in this section was the entanglement of The Raft of the Medusa being caught in the low-hanging wires of the streetcars in Versailles.  I could picture that vividly and how shocking that might have been to see, especially afterward when they had a truck escort and men with poles moving the wires out of the way as they continued on their journey.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on section two of the read-a-long, and we look forward to the next section: Chap. 29-42.  We’ll post the next discussion on Friday, Oct. 24.

Week 1: The Monuments Men Read-a-Long

Welcome to the first week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. For this discussion, we read from the beginning through Chapter 14.

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.

Here’s the read-a-long schedule:

  • Friday, Oct. 10: Chapters 1-14
  • Friday, Oct. 17: Chapters 15-28
  • Friday, Oct. 24: Chapters 29-42
  • Friday, October 31: Chapters 43-end

Sorry today’s discussion is a little behind, but here are my initial thoughts and Anna will chime in later in the comments.  Feel free to add your thoughts or questions.

What I found so interesting is how disorganized this mission was, even though art historians and other experts in the military thought it was a good idea to preserve the great art of the world in spite of the destructive nature of war.  Even though there were no supplies given to this group, they were able to improvise enough to get themselves to the locations they needed to get to and to mark special sites in a way that kept people from destroying them — such as using signs that the place was full of mines and to keep out, rather than signs stating they were protected works of art and history … signs that likely would have been ignored by soldiers.  They had not set chain of command and no procedures to follow, it was interesting to see how they remained organized and able to accomplish some of their goals in spite of that — possibly because they were in the military already and were disciplined.

Included in the beginning about the mission was another example of the Nazi’s meticulous nature, having sent ahead soldiers and others from Germany to these foreign countries to make lists of art and historically significant buildings and more ahead of the German movement to conquer the rest of Europe.  The fact that the Nazi party and Hitler changed laws to make their actions legal doesn’t surprise me, but it is different than what most dictators would have done — they simply would have reached out and taken what they wanted without bothering to change the laws.  Hitler often made it a condition of a nation’s surrender to hand over art works, which was also unique.  It was interesting to note that Hitler even thought himself entitled to art work that was not Aryan or made by those of superior birth.  But there seem to be these contradictions all the time with Hitler.

Was anyone else appalled that Hitler and his soldiers were using the guise of the Red Cross to go into churches and other places to steal art?!  I know that this is war and he had an agenda, but it was even more appalling to me that he would use an organization meant to help the injured and in need to carry out his thefts of art.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on section one of the read-a-long, and we look forward to the next section: Chap. 15-28.  We’ll post the next discussion on Friday, Oct. 17.

October Read-a-Long of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter

As part of the War Through The Generations 2014 Reading Challenge with a Twist, we’ll be hosting a read-a-long for WWII.

In October, we’ll be reading The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter.

Discussion questions will be posted on Friday for the designated chapters.  Here’s the reading schedule and discussion dates:

  • Friday, Oct. 10: Chapters 1-14
  • Friday, Oct. 17: Chapters 15-28
  • Friday, Oct. 24: Chapters 29-42
  • Friday, October 31: Chapters 43-end

We hope you’ll be joining us next month for our WWII read-a-long.

Remembering 9/11

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War Through the Generations will never forget 9/11. 

Please take a moment today to reflect.

WWII Linky

The 2014 War Through the Generations Reading Challenge With a Twist has begun. For September and October, reviews for the WWII should be linked here.

To be clear, you don’t have to read just WWII books now, but any of the books that fit the war categories. We’ll just be posting the linkies for the reviews in the months we designated here.

Welcome to the WWII Reviews linky for Sept./Oct.:

Looking for the Linky for the Gulf Wars, go here.

Looking for the Linky for the French and Indian War, go here.

Looking for the Korean War Linky, click here.

Here’s the Linky for WWI, go here.

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