While living in Florence Italy, I wondered how so much of the world's great cultural treasures survived the most destructive conflict in history and who were the people that saved them. It seemed a simple question, especially given all that's been written about WWII. However years would pass before I would come to know and understand the epic role of the heroes known as the Monuments Men. In 2007, I founded The Monuments Men Foundation for the preservation of art to preserve these heroes' legacy and put that legacy to use to avoid problems such as the aftermath of looting the national museum of Iraq in Baghdad in 2003, and to illuminate the path home for the hundreds of thousands of works of art and documents still missing since World War II.

I've written three books on this subject, the last of which, Saving Italy, was a New York Times bestseller. My second book, The Monuments Men, will soon be brought to the big screen in a major feature film produced, directed by and starring George Clooney and a remarkable all-star cast including Bill Murray, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, and Bob Balaban.



these are all wonderful questions: thank you very much for forwarding them. If you believe culture matters, if you are embarrassed about what took place in Iraq in 2003, if you enjoy the mere idea much less the opportunity of visiting Europe and its extraordinary museums and churches, and all they contain, then please share with your friends the story of the men and women who risked their lives to preserve this for us today.

Comments: 39 • Responses: 11  • Date: 

chooter9 karma

What are some of your favorite treasures that were rescued?

monumentsmen14 karma

The Monuments Men found hundreds of thousands of stolen works of art hidden in salt mines and castles by the Nazis. They included sculpture by Michelangelo, paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and the great alter panel by Jan van Eyke to mention a few of the artists' works. Certainly one of the dramatic moments in the story was the discovery of Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna in an Austrian salt mine in the closing days of the war.

chooter9 karma

How would this art get all these crazy places?

monumentsmen19 karma

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis spent almost 10 years looting Europe. It was the greatest theft in history, one that set the Monuments Men off on the greatest treasure hunt in history. This part of history is actually a "today" story, as we can see from the discovery of 1400 works of art found just days ago in the Munich apartment of the son of an art dealer with strong Nazi ties.

In the closing months of the war, in an effort to protect this stolen loot along with millions of items from Germany's own museums, the Nazi officials issued orders to place the works of art in salt mines, caves and castles out of the way of Allied bombing. The Monuments Men ultimately located these works of art in thousands of hiding places. By 1951, they had found and returned more than 5 million stolen items.

JimboFett4 karma

What was the single most valuable piece The Monuments Men rescued? edit: Besides the culture part ;)

monumentsmen14 karma

Truly, so many of the works of art saved by the Monuments Men were priceless then and would be so today. When you consider a painting by Francis Bacon sold at auction yesterday for $143 million dollars, it staggers the mind to imagine what someone might pay today for a sculpture by Michelangelo. Keep in mind, Hitler and the Nazis stole hundreds of thousands of works by such artists…

One of the most incredible parts of the story took place in Italy with the near-destruction of Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper. An Allied bomb landed some 80 feet away from the dining hall housing the painting, obliterating one of the long walls (the east wall) which caused the roof to collapse. Had it not been for protective measures taken by local officials on the one-in-a-million chance something like this might happen, the Last Supper would have been reduced to rubble.

In a more humorous sense, there would be no Da Vinci code because the painting would exist only in art history.

poolgirl804 karma

Which one of the stars plays you and are you happy with that choice? Would you have rathered someone else or did you have someone els ein mind?

monumentsmen9 karma

I'm flattered, but the answer is none. The story concerns a small group of men and one woman, the most unlikely of spies, who risk their lives to save so many of the beautiful treasures of Europe we all enjoy today.

poolgirl805 karma

Ahh, gotcha! How many of the people portrayed as leads in the movie are still alive today? WHat are their reactions ot the movie so far?

monumentsmen9 karma

Only one of the Monuments Men portrayed in the film is still living, however many of these heroes' children and grandchildren are alive to celebrate these heroes' great accomplishments. We are all incredibly excited about the work of George Clooney and Grant Heslov bringing this remarkable story to the attention of audiences worldwide.

methodmouse3 karma

What sort of role do you see culture/art playing in modern wars and has it changed since WWII? In the same vein, has your research shown if WWII's treatment of culture/art was different from previous wars? Thanks for doing an AMA!

monumentsmen6 karma

The achievements of the Monuments Men and women are epic in scale and historic for establishing the gold standard for the protection of cultural treasures during times of conflict. Never before or since did an army show such respect for the cultural property of others. The events that followed the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, in particular the looting of its national museum and damage to its National Archives and National Library were a low point. The legacy of these heroes of civilization have been ignored; it cost the United States a great price in the loss of stature in the eyes of people throughout the world who believed we had no interest in preserving that country's great cultural treasures. It was an enormous failure of leadership. For this reason, the work of the Monuments Men foundation in raising public awareness about what a small group of men and women with no tools and technology (in many cases, hitchhiking their way across war-torn Europe) were able to achieve is essential to re-establishing the high bar on how to protect art and monuments during war.

George Clooney's film plays an enormous role in making this extraordinary story of average people doing extraordinary things available to hundreds of millions of people all over the world and will provide them a chance to see American and British scholar-soldiers at their very best.

elizadaring2 karma

I just finished Monument's Men last night!! It was amazing and so well written. This is the first time in a what feels like a long time that I've been able to finish a book. So thank you!

Have you been involved in the production of the movie? Have you seen any of it?

EDIT: Also, are you planning on writing about the Monuments Men in Italy? I would definitely read it.

monumentsmen3 karma

I have been very involved from the outset. It has been an extraordinarily wonderful opportunity, and unique in many respects, to work with George and Grant to bring this story to life through their eyes as great storytellers. I am proud that the studios, Sony and Fox, have been resolute in their endorsement and support of this important and exciting film. I worked on several occasions with George and Grant as they developed their script for the film, then visited the set on three separate occasions during filming. Our team at the Monuments Men foundation has worked closely with the Sony team on the film launch, which we know will be a dramatic series of events in and of itself, beginning in just a few weeks time.

monumentsmen3 karma

Get out your credit card! The name of the book is Saving Italy, a New York Times bestseller, which begins with the dramatic telling of the near-destruction of Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper! Saving Italy tells the story of the Monuments Men in Italy as they advance up the peninsula, through Rome, Siena, and Florence where they learn that German forces have taken some 800 of the most important paintings and sculpture in the world from the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace as they fled north. It is a gripping story involving a largely overlooked but hugely important figure, SS General Karl Wolff, who uses these works of art as part of his desperate gambit to negotiate a secret surrender of German forces in Italy with the head of the OSS- precursor to the CIA - Allen Dulles.

hashhero2 karma

Thanks for this! Looking forward to the movie. What are some of the more famous pieces rescued? Also, can you tell us a little bit about the woman in the group?

monumentsmen7 karma

One of the principal figures in our story involves a Monuments Woman named Rose Valland, who I believe was perhaps the greatest heroine of World War II.

Valland worked as a custodian in the museum being used by the Nazis as a central clearing house for the tens of thousands of paintings and other art objects they were stealing from French collectors, so many of whom were Jews. Unbeknownst to the Nazis, Rose understood German and for a period of four years made secret notes on scraps of paper, dug through trash cans to retrieve shipping manifests, and made other detailed notes about the looting activities. At any point in time, had the Nazis become aware of her spying, they would have shot her. In fact, they came close to catching her on two occasions, both of which she talked her way out of. Her records, in essence a treasure map to tens of thousands of works stolen by the Nazis from French collectors and hidden in Germany, were invaluable to Jim Rorimer who would later locate and secure this important part of France's artistic heritage.

hashhero3 karma

Wow. So did she know about the MM or did she just risk her life in hopes that someone would eventually track everything down?

monumentsmen6 karma

Great question! Rose did NOT know about the Monuments Men per se but followed her heart and love of France's great cultural history in risking her life to protect thousands of paintings, drawings, tapestries, furniture items, and other cherished belongings of French citizens. She did work closely with the director of the Louvre, who was her boss - Jacques Jaujard - who then passed on portions of her information to the French Resistance. But Rose predominantly acted on faith, believing it was her duty if not her destiny to save the great works of art in France.

lorben1232 karma

How accurate is the movie expected to be based on the historical accounts?

monumentsmen3 karma

Our film is a dramatic telling of this incredible but true story. From my perspective as the writer, researcher and as chairman of the Monuments Men foundation, I believe the critical parts of this story are intact. The overarching achievements of the Monuments Men and women who participated in this American and British-led operation, to become new kinds of soldiers, charged with saving rather than destroying, are intact. The audiences will know of their heroism and risking their lives to save mankind's most beautiful achievements. They will also be able to take pride in the fact that at war's end, to the victors did NOT belong the spoils of war. The Monuments Men spent years returning some 5 million stolen objects to the countries from which these things were taken. It is an epic story, brought to life in the most dramatic storytelling possible by two masters, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.