Over the years I have read numerous books, both fiction and non-fiction, about WWII in which the term “monuments men” was used. I had a vague idea of what these unsung heroes did during and after the war. When I realized that a movie was coming out, I made sure I went to see it. Mind boggling to say the least. Then I discovered that there was a book by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter called The Monuments Men. To see if I missed anything, I then read the book. Boy did I ever miss stuff! The 2-hour movie only skims the content of the book.
Just after December 7, 1941, a group of high-powered museum directors/curators met in New York City to decide what to do about their collections in the event our country was invaded by Japan and/or Germany. They also discussed how to restore to their rightful owners the paintings, sculptures, books, household goods, etc. that were systematically being looted by the Axis, in particular the Nazis in Europe. These museum directors were also worried by the effect that the invasions of Europe and Japan would have on cathedrals, castles, memorials, etc. and how best to protect and preserve them.
They decided to create an adjunct unit to the various invasion military components, to be composed of curators, art historians, college professors, architects, etc. These men were given the basics of military training. Most were commissioned as officers. One woman, Rose Valland, in Paris and a museum person in her own right, was an important part of the detective story that unfolded after D-Day (June 6, 1944).
The first part of the book unwinds slowly as the authors lay the groundwork for one of the most amazing stories to come out of WWII. I recommend seeing the movie first THEN reading the book so you can understand the background stories. But beware, the names in the movie are not the same as the names in the book (the real people). Not all of the stories in the book are documented accurately in the movie (literary license?).
Despite the slow start to the book, the story really gathers speed when the Monuments Men start their investigations. I would have given the book 5 STARS if the beginning was as compelling as the end.
—Jim Harris, retired book sales rep
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