Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

2/8/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

If you, the reader, had the chance to volunteer for such a mission, would you have accepted it? Would you have considered risking your life to save a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci or a rare illuminated manuscript of the Gospel of John from the Middle Ages?

Opening this weekend is a film starring George Clooney, The Monuments Men, chronicling the efforts of 345 men and women from 13 nations who volunteered to recover works of arts stolen by the Nazis. Created in 1943 by an act of Congress and the support of President Roosevelt, this mix of soldiers and commissioned scholars, including museum directors, art historians, and architects risked their lives to protect monuments and return priceless works of art and books to their rightful owners.By 1951 they had facilitated the return of over 5 million stolen objects to their owners - many, however, were never found. Only one-tenth of what was taken from Poland was ever recovered.

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans announced Jan. 23 that the Monuments Men will have their own gallery in 2016.

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans announced Jan. 23 that the Monuments Men will have their own gallery in 2016.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/8/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Books, culture, audiobooks, movies, film, monuments men, art, Deal W Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - Opening this weekend is a film starring George Clooney, The Monuments Men, chronicling the efforts of 345 men and women from 13 nations who volunteered to recover works of arts stolen by the Nazis. Created in 1943 by an act of Congress and the support of President Roosevelt, this mix of soldiers and commissioned scholars, including museum directors, art historians, and architects risked their lives to protect monuments and return priceless works of art and books to their rightful owners.By 1951 they had facilitated the return of over 5 million stolen objects to their owners - many, however, were never found. Only one-tenth of what was taken from Poland was ever recovered.

If you, the reader, had the chance to volunteer for such a mission, would you have accepted it?  Would you have considered risking your life to save a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci or a rare illuminated manuscript of the Gospel of John from the Middle Ages?

Robert M. Edsel, a wealthy businessman from Dallas, became intrigued, obsessed really, with the story of Nazi plundering and the men and women who volunteered while WWII was still raging. Edsel's books and his Monuments Men Foundation have resulted in books, films, and public awareness of a story that has still not reached its end, and probably never will. In February 2012, customs officers found 1,400 works of arts, including paintings stolen by the Nazis, hidden in a Munich apartment.

The Monuments Men, based upon a book co-authored by Robert M. Edsel, should be seen in conjunction with the 2006 documentary he co-produced, The Rape of Europa (based on a 1994 book by Lynn H. Nicholas). Whereas the film is a dramatic retelling of the recovery operation, the documentary shows the systematic plunder of artwork from museums and galleries across Europe, especially from the Jews.

One story from Edsel's book speaks, as they say, volumes - he writes about inter-viewing one of the last surviving Monuments Men, 98-year old, S. Lane Faison Jr. During the interview, Faison, who knew about Edsel's colossal effort, asked him why he thought art was so important. Edsel answered by quoting a sentence carved into the stone entrance to a Budapest museum: "Ars longa, vita brevis," translated, "Art is long, life is short." Faison then told a stunned Edsel those were the words that would be on his gravestone. Faison died two weeks later.

The reader might now be thinking, "One human life is more important than rescuing the Mona Lisa." After seeing The Monuments Men and The Rape of Europa, you might think twice about that. Both films testify to the myriad ways that art and humanity are intertwined - that our identity, values, and historical memory are stored in the works of art we esteem and protect.

The French so loved the works in the Louvre that they completely emptied it in advance of the German occupation in May 1940. Thirty-seven convoys of eight trucks each took the entire collection to castles and estates all over France. Paintings were moved from place to place to avoid detection. Individual paintings like the Mona Lisa, as well as complete art collections, were assigned curators for the duration of the war. The art of the Louvre survived intact.

The great Hermitage museum in Leningrad sent one million of its treasures to Siberia, and the staff lived in its cellars during the long German siege of the city, prepared to fight hand-to-hand to defend the remaining collection.

Adolf Hitler aspired to be a painter, and he became a tyrant. As a painter he was mediocre, but his understanding of art's power was second to none. Hitler knew that conquering Europe would require more than war; it would call for a complete domination of the culture, especially its art and architecture.

Long before coming to Paris for his first visit, Hitler and the Gestapo, especially Hermann Goering, had been stealing whatever art they wanted from Jews in Germany and Austria. Every Nazi leader had an art collection, often numbering in the thousands of pieces. Some of the modern art was burned for being "decadent"; some went into Hitler's and Goering's vast private collections; others went to the new House of German Art built in Munich to the Fuhrer's own specifications.

When Hitler wanted to decimate a people, he not only killed all he could, he also destroyed their museums and libraries. The documentary footage of Hitler's blitzkrieg of Poland shows the deliberate razing and torching of Poland's cultural treasures. Warsaw's Royal Castle, the symbol of Polish iden-tity, was plundered but not initially destroyed (the Italian allies protected it): It was drilled with holes throughout, where sticks of dynamite were inserted and used to intimidate the populace into submission.

It didn't work, and when the Poles attacked the German occupiers during the Warsaw Uprising, Hitler's original order to destroy the castle was carried out. It took 30 years for the Poles to rebuild the structure out of the powdered rubble that remained after the war.

In Krakow, great care was taken to protect the famous altar at St. Mary's Church, built over 19 years by sculptor Veit Stoss. When it was dismantled and shipped to Berlin, the Poles of Krakow complained that they "could not pray without it." But the Germans considered the altarpiece "German," and "all German art should be brought back to Germany."

One of the Monuments Men, Rose Valland, played in the film by Cate Blanchett, put her life on the line to return art stolen from French Jews. The Nazis housed their looted paintings at the Jeu de Palme, where Valland worked as a secretary. Not disclosing her knowledge of the German language, she secretly kept a diary cataloguing 16,000 paintings, their owners, and their original homes.

When they started losing the war, what the Nazis could not haul away they simply destroyed. Before leaving Florence, they blew up all the magnificent medieval bridges except the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge across the Arno where Dante first saw Beatrice, Ponte Santa Trinita, was reduced to a pile of stones. In their retreat out of the Soviet Union, German soldiers stripped and vandalized the country estates of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and even the Russian national poet Pushkin.

One moment from the documentary stands out: "I lost all my family memories," said one Jewish man who was detailed to the warehouse where he helped pack the 22,000 items, stolen from French Jews, for shipment to Germany from Paris. The only member of his family not sent to the camps, he saw his own family's possessions arrive in the warehouse one day for transfer out of the country. Hoping not to be noticed, he grabbed a suitcase and filled it with photos only to leave it all behind when he escaped to freedom.

The great works of art, as well as other property stolen by the Nazis, are still being returned to the descendants of their original owners. And as these grandchildren receive once-lost paintings into their hands, "life is created from art again." Or as is written on the headstone of Monument Man, S. Lane Faison Jr. - Ars longa, vita brevis.

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans announced Jan. 23 that the Monuments Men will have their own gallery in 2016.

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, will begin broadcasting in February on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2015
Universal:
Scientists: That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
Evangelization: Contribution of women: That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.



Comments


More U.S.

Billy the Kid's New Mexico hideout now up for sale Watch

Image of According to legend, Billy the Kid is said to have killed 21 men, but it is generally believed that he killed eight.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It's a beautiful home in New Mexico, spacious, with breathtaking mountain views. It's hard to believe that it at one time sheltered Billy the Kid, also known as William Bonney, one of the American Wild West's most notorious outlaws. It is now on the market for ... continue reading


Obama spends an alarming $3 billion on Obamacare WITHOUT Congressional approval Watch

Image of President Obama's administration is being accused of illegally spending money on Obamacare without Congressional approval.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The U.S. Treasury Department may be moving forward with Obamacare regardless of Congressional concerns and a lack of funding, approving a $3 billion payment to health insurers despite the fact that Congress has not authorized any payments in annual ... continue reading


Obama Administration as Global Advocate for Radical LGBTI Agenda

Image of Randy Berry

By Keith A Fournier

Robert Reilly is right. The Obama administration is doing profound damage to the very understanding of human rights. We have fundamental human rights precisely because we are human persons. No-one should support the denial of truly fundamental human rights for ... continue reading


Climate change - WHERE IT HURTS: Scientists say warming will hit nation's agricultural heartland Watch

Image of The climate change panel's verdict came as a bit of a surprise: Greenhouse-gas emissions played a substantial role in Europe's misery, but not so much in California.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

There are very few positive things to result from climate change. Researchers now say that warmer temperatures will hit America where it counts: the nation's agricultural heartland. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Researchers presented their latest findings ... continue reading


WITCHES ARE BACK: Witchcraft reappears in today's popular mainstream culture in unexpected ways Watch

Image of Witches are seen in both religion and as a feminist symbol.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The idea of the witch is making its rounds through history again. Females, both young and old, are embracing the power that comes with the feminist witch in today's society. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In a recent twitter post, popular female rapper, Azealia ... continue reading


Alaska lights up as it become the third U.S. state to legalize marijuana Watch

Image of Twenty-three states still prohibit cannabis outright. The other U.S. states have either legalized medical marijuana or decriminalized marijuana possession.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The state of Alaska is lighting up in celebration... following Colorado's lead, Alaska has become the third U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana use. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Voters passed the Alaska Marijuana Legalization ballot measure last ... continue reading


The Air Force pulls a B-52 from the 'Boneyard,' and you won't believe what they did with it next Watch

Image of A B-52, one of the largest and most effective bombers in the world.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

For the first time in aircraft's history, the U.S. Air Force has brought a B-52 bomber back to life from the Boneyard of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Nicknamed "Ghost Rider," this 53-year-old bomber had ... continue reading


Fr. Peter M. J. Stravinskas on the Chair of St. Peter and the Role of the Pope

Image of

By Fr. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D.

The doctrine of infallibility, then, is derived from the principle of apostolic succession and from the fact that Jesus Christ promised His presence to His apostles when He sent them forth to teach all the nations (cf. Mt 28:20).  The Pope and the bishops in ... continue reading


'I don't know' whether Obama is a Christian, Governor Scott K. Walker of Wisconsin says Watch

Image of Governor Scott Walker declined to weigh in on Rudolf Giuliani's characterization of the president's patriotism and background.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

When reporters asked Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker about U.S. President Barack Obama's religious affiliation, he said, "I don't know." Considered a possible Republican candidate for the presidency in 2016, Walker said he was not aware of Obama's faith.  ... continue reading


Fifty Shades of Madness: No Gray Area Here

Image of

By Jennifer Hartline

I can't say it any better than the Dowager Countess of Grantham: Have we all stepped through the looking glass? Yes, I'm afraid that collectively, as a culture, we have indeed. We no longer seem to recognize the plainly absurd as absurd. Up is down; out is in; ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Psalms 79:8, 9, 11, 13
8 Do not count against us the guilt of former ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 79:8, 9, 11, 13
13 And we, your people, the flock that you pasture, ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 6:36-38
36 'Be compassionate just as your Father is ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for March 2nd, 2015 Image

Bl. Charles the Good
March 2: In 1086, St. Canute, King of Denmark and father of Blessed ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter