The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History - Bret Witter, Robert M. Edsel With imperial authority, the Nazi’s repatriated German works traded away in World War I and plundered the nationalist works of the countries which fell to them. After the landings in Italy and Normandy, a small group of Allied soldiers were given the task to restore the balance. Middle aged scholars in uniform crisscrossed the Western Front to find and preserve Europe’s artistic heritage. To save what they could.

The handful of men which made up the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives operation were dispersed to different divisions and often worked alone. Speeding from site to site and enlisting local help to protect what they could. Edsel creates a compelling account of this vagabond group of scholar soldiers. He shows the war through their eyes by using personal letters and reports. Purists may have issue with Edsel’s use of dialogue in parts since it is clearly an authorial invention. I get it. It kind of bothered me, too. However, he does so minimally and in parts of little substance. He warns ahead of time that his use of dialogue was simply to help flesh out the personalities of the men. Additionally, Edsel assures the reader that such embellishments are justifiably documented.

This is not written as a textbook so don’t expect just a barrage of facts. Though there is no shortage of them. It is intended to be a story of the men who participated in this little known war effort. Men who brought a different perspective to the horror of war. They had built their careers on recognizing and appreciating beautiful things. And they brought that gentle nature to one of the most violent conflicts in the history of mankind. Even the one most well-adapted to military life, Robert Posey, seemed to stand apart. He thrived on the discipline and the regimented lifestyle. However, in one of his letters home to his wife, Alice, he writes:
”Perhaps I am just a softie. When I am billeted in a German home even for one night I go out and search for the chickens and rabbits or pets and give them water and food if possible. Generally the family has pulled out too rapidly to care for such things. I suppose the stern and the cruel ones rule the world. If so, I shall be content to try to live each day within the limits of my conscience and let great plaudits go to those who are willing to pay the price for it.” Pg. 338
They were the Renaissance men of the mid-20th century.