Sunday, February 9, 2014

Monuments Men: Dying To Save the Hertiage of All Mankind

  • Art in the Merrium Webster dictionary is defined as:
  • : something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings
  • : works created by artists : paintingssculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings
  • : the methods and skills used for paintingsculptingdrawing, etc.

  • Those of us who are artists or who love and deeply appreciate art know that art is in the very being of each and every human since what is defined as man have walked this earth on two legs. Each and every culture, and I mean EVERY culture has left behind evidence of their artistic talent. Those who see the Lascaux Caves in France still get almost teary at their experience! Artists living over 18,000 years ago still have the power to move us today in the 21st Century.
The real Monument's Men with art they rescued.
    I had read years ago about the theft of European art by Hitler and the Nazi's but had never looked hard at it. My experiences in art on visits to Europe showed that there was indeed plenty of art. It was oftentimes not particularly well cared for either. Then after seeing the movie "Sophie's Choice" on TV with my daughter on my lap (I read the book but experienced nothing like seeing it) I turned it off and never touched another book or went to see another movie about the Nazi's after the scene when arriving at the camps she had to decide which of her children to save. I cried. Who could make that choice?

  • From the moment we saw the Previews at the movie house, I knew I had to see the movie. For my first outing doing something "not" doctor related, my wife and I went to see George Clooney's "Monuments Men." Looking at the reviews before we left, it looked not very impressive. Rotten Tomatoes give it a paltry 33%. It looked like it would be a bust or would it? It turned out, art 101 would indeed help for those not experienced with art. 

  • One of the truly unanswered questions of the movie was, was it worth it to die for any or all of these men to save these works of art? Despite their being the collective memory and culturural icons of all the peoples of the earth, was it worth dying for? They said yes and several did give their lives to do just that.  I wonder if the same decision would be made today.
  • Needless to say, we both thought it was very good and while a bit choppy and unclear did a good job of revealing to the world the massiveness of Hitler's looting. To see warehouses filled to the brim with loot says it far better than reading the words in a book. To see the Nazi's burning items, masterpieces that are now lost forever in their blind obedience to their Fürher is mind-blowing.

  • Over 5 million works of art were looted from museums, churches and private collections in the conquered countries. They ordered the destruction of over 40% of all of Poland's treasures. He didn't want to just rid the world of Poles but of their achievements as well. If you have ever stood in front of the Mona Lisa, seen the David first hand in Florence is to be moved by a vision and clarity never forgotten. These are the achievements of man. It is story telling brought to life. To remove them from the common collective is to make our lives that much less rich, the reduce what we have achieved as meaningless. Hitler wanted it ALL destroyed if he was killed or died. His minions were prepared to do just that full well knowing that the Third Reich would collapse. 

  • What I didn't know and provided a  bit of excitement was that the Russians, coming from the east, were also "collecting" these treasures and using them as reparations for what the Germans had done. While we might understand the logic, they had no more right to these treasures than Hitler did. The Soviets had already "liberated" the collections of their own citizens and stuffed the Hermitage with one of greatest collections of art in the world. So we have to ask, was Stalin any better than Hitler?

  • Michaelangeleo's Madonna And Child stolen from Belggium
  • One of the men died trying to stop the looting of Michaelangelo's iconic "Madonna and Child" as the Nazi's started fleeing back to the Fatherland. The men, to avenge their comrades death frantically try to find where it was hidden.

When they finally understand the the Nazi's didn't hide art in towns but in nearby mines, they made discovery after discovery. In the last they reached before the Russians came, at least in the film, the last item was the statue. They hurriedly liberate it and make their escape. The photo here shows exactly how it was found and then liberated.

If you love art and want to see just how 
close we came to losing much of it, you should see this film. Its not a blockbuster, not much in the way of blowing things up, but it shows a more human side of people who cared and how they made our government and military care as well. One of their discoveries was the gold bullion of Nazi Germany, not unlike our Fort Knox. Watching the photos and self congratulations one of the arts men observes, "They may not care much for art but they sure do know their gold." Funny, but that art made that gold pale in both monetary value and the collective wisdom it held. It was literally the history of man and his achievements!

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Alan,
    Cannot wait to see this movie. My son and I are avid WWII history buffs and have seen or read many books related to this time period. I did read a book about this two summers ago and when we saw the previews we knew we were going to see it---Smash Hit or not.
    I am so glad I did not live during this time period and have to make the choice Sophie and millions others like her had too. Every time I read anything about WWII I have to give thanks for all the many blessings in my life and too give thanks to all the Veteran's who served!
    Thanks for sharing,