Did you ever wonder how priceless art objects survived World War II in devastated Europe? Frankly, I never did – not until I came across Robert Edsel’s book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.” Obviously, I wasn’t the only one struck by this subject. So was George Clooney, and as a result, a new movie, “The Monuments Men,” starring George Clooney (no surprise here ), Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon is coming to the big screen starting February 7. (The author, Robert Edsel, is also given a movie credit – at the end of the screenwriters list ).
So, what made this book worth turning into a movie? Lots of books (and movies) take place during WWII, right? Well, for one thing, the main characters are not soldiers, generals or suffering civilians, but middle-aged people from art-related backgrounds: architects, sculptors, museum curators, archivists and others. For another, these people, drawn from 13 nations (most of them from the U.S. and UK), were not assigned any military duties. Their tasks were first to advise on how to limit combat damage to the historic structures of northwest Europe (thus the name: the monuments men) and later to recover cultural treasures that had been looted by top Nazis, especially Hitler and Göring. This wasn’t an easy assignment by any means. As the Allied armies moved deeper inside Europe, the monuments men (there were women, too, but, apparently, only one appears in the movie ) moved onto the front lines, working fiercely and tirelessly, often at personal risk, to protect and restore art damaged by the ravages of war.
Readers who want to learn more about that period may consider checking out “The Rape of Europa” by Lynn Nicholas, too. This book covers largely the same territory, and its cast of characters includes Hitler, Göring, Marc Chagall and Gertrude Stein.
If straight history is not your thing, consider reading the novel “Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men” by Cara Putman. Here destruction, art and whodunit are combined into a war-time love story.
And last but not least, don’t miss Robert Edsel’s latest book: “Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis,” which is devoted to saving European artistic treasure in Italy.
Also, remember that you don’t have to wait for George Clooney to turn these books into movies. All you need to do to learn fascinating facts about WWII (or any other subject, for that matter) is check out library books .