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.

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