Sherry-Go-Round: A salute to the Monuments Men who rescued art
by Sherry Kughn
Feb 18, 2014 | 3026 views |  0 comments | 85 85 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At some point in my past, I guess I had heard that, during World War II, Adolph Hitler ordered soldiers to steal other countries’ art and hide it. However, I had never heard that American and Allied soldiers had been charged with rescuing and returning the stolen art to its owners. The Americans were called The Monuments Men. Thanks to the movie of the same name, currently playing, millions of people now know more about this historical event.

American author Robert Edsel researched the facts of this story for many years and wrote a book about it called The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. The story caught the attention of actor George Clooney, who co-produced, directed, and starred in the movie.

The Monuments Men movie captures the passion of a group of art-loving American civilians who were art experts. At the urging of Frank Stokes, played by Clooney in the movie, they subjected themselves to the rigors of basic military training. Then, they traveled to Europe in search of the hiding places of the art and risked their lives to save paintings, sculptures, stained glass, tapestries, and art panels. A quote from Stokes summarizes the motivation of The Monuments Men. “If you destroy an entire generation of people’s culture, it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants, and it’s the one thing we can’t allow.”

Those who want to see the movie should study a little about it in advance. My only criticism is that it is slightly hard to follow. One fellow moviegoer said after seeing it, “I wish I had been more familiar with the various uniforms that soldiers from different countries wore.”

Movies do a good job of personalizing stories, and The Monuments Men sheds light on the actions of the thieves and those who helped the Americans. Also, the movie creates sympathy for the soldiers who sacrificed time away from their families; and, in more than one instance, gave their lives for the effort. One character redeemed himself from a past indiscretion against his country.

The Americans’ passion and dedication to art come through, amid several other revelations about the bonds they create with each other.

Ironically, just after this movie came out, the media reported a story about German officials who were investigating the tax records of a man named Cornelius Gurlitt and came across many more works of art in Salzburg, Austria, some of which may be the stolen art. In fact, the Germans also disclosed that they found another Gurlitt stash two years ago in Munich. The stories raise the question of whether there is still more hidden art that might one day be discovered.

In Sunday’s Parade magazine, an interview with Edsel stated that some American soldiers had also stolen art during the time they were rescuing it. He urges the public to come forward with any illegal art that their parents or grandparents might have given them.

It is the hope of art lovers that the book and the movie might allow stolen art to be returned to its home where it can be protected and enjoyed.

Edsel deserves a salute for bringing the story to this generation. Readers might be interested in his other books, Rescuing Da Vinci and Saving Italy.

This story reminds me of several truths. We should respect those who create artistic masterpieces that are cultural treasures. We should never allow another Hitler to greedily horde or destroy art, and we should be glad that good deeds triumph over evil intentions.

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Sherry-Go-Round: A salute to the Monuments Men who rescued art by Sherry Kughn

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