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Monuments Men Reading List

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The Monuments Men film was a slightly fictionalized version of the incredible true story of the activities of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program at the end of World War II. Though much of the action really happened, some of the names and details were changed. If you enjoyed the movie and care to read the story of the real men and women involved, check out The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert M. Edsel, upon which the film was based.

Edsel has also written a sequel, Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis. Published in 2013, it focuses specifically on the activities of the MFAA in Italy, with very detailed accounts of operations to find, protect, and retrieve masterpieces of Italian art and architecture. Of particular interest are the efforts of the MFAA to protect art not just from the Axis, but also from the bombing done by the Allies, and the conflicts with Allies who questioned whether the unconventional artists, art historians, architects and conservators of the MFAA had any business trying to influence military decisions.

In another version of the story of the members of the MFAA in Italy, journalist Ilaria Dagnini Brey gives us The Venus Fixers: The Untold Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War II. The members of the MFAA were nicknamed Venus Fixers, and they worked with Italians and other Allied forces to try to protect and restore many of Italy's greatest treasures. This book provides insight into the suffering of the Italian people during the war, and how the efforts to save their art, architecture, and culture strengthened their morale in difficult times. The Venus Fixers were not always successful, and Brey beautifully tells the sometimes heartbreaking story of what was saved and what was lost.

An earlier book about the fate of art during World War II is The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn H. Nicholas, published in 1994. This classic of the art theft and recovery genre is full of details about the people, places, and objects involved in the most immense and systematic ravaging of art and culture in modern times. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was also made into an excellent documentary film, The Rape of Europa, co-produced by Robert M. Edsel, author of The Monuments Men.

For a more modern story about art recovery, check out Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures, by Robert K. Wittman. Wittman was the founder of the FBI's Art Crime Team, responsible for investigating everything from counterfeiting to thefts of all types of art and cultural objects. His fast-paced tale of associating with gangsters and other unsavory characters is full of exciting adventures, and a fair amount of information about art, too.

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Rape of Europa

The documentary was one of the best, fantastic footage of the men and art treasures, including recovery. Highly recommended.

related film

Another film, made closer to the end of WW II, not about the M. Men but about an attempt to save fine art during the war is The Train starring Burt Lancaster, More fictionalized, yet giving a greater sense of the danger involved in such activities, especially clandestine counter Nazi efforts in the midst of the war. While Mr. Edsel writes a good yarn, I believe the earlier book, The Rape of Europa, is more accurate regarding events and persons involved in the Monuments Men, perhaps because she interviewed more of the participants, some not even mentioned by Edsel who tends to focus on individual characters stressing idiosyncratic personalities that give his writing a fictional tone. An earlier documentary film with the same Rape of Europa title was criticized for creating both too much or too little sympathy for the collectors who lost works under the Nazi regime.

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