The Monuments Men

monuments men cover image The Monuments Men

by Robert M. Edsel
Center Street
Paperback, 512 pages

The movie is pedestrian at best, but the book is quite good. While the story needed to be told neither the book nor the movie knock it out of the park.  But, what a great untold story it is!  The bottom line is that the Nazis (and Hitler himself and his pal Goering), in addition to their well-known atrocities, were common, vulgar thieves on a vast scale.
Grand Theft Art! Trainload after trainload left France filled with the art objects stolen from the Jewish aristocracy of Paris, the patrimony of the French state, and churches throughout Western Europe. The movie concentrated on this sexier element of the story and the eclectic unit of the Allied forces that was tasked to find and return the treasure.
 An equally or, perhaps, more interesting, task for the Monuments Men was the safeguarding of historic artifacts – churches, monuments, buildings and so on – in the heat of battle as the allies moved across Europe and into Germany. The trade-offs between the military exigencies and the cultural objectives create interesting tensions and tricky decision-making stories. Lives or art?  Definitely worth reading.