[Note: there are some spoilers in this post, so see the movie before reading it.] George Clooney wrote, directed, and stars in “The Monuments Men,” the story of six men who helped save five million masterpieces of art and architecture and other cultural treasures from the Nazis. In reality, there were about 345 men and women from 13 countries who worked for the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section) of the Allied forces during World War II. They were not soldiers, as shown in the film. Many were museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, and educators.
In 1943, a Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas of The American Council of Learned Societies was established, funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation and headquartered at the Frick Art Reference Library. They put together a catalogue of art in occupied countries that was used for tracking the stolen works.
The characters in the movie are fictionalized, but this article tells the real stories of the men and women who inspired them. One of the most important is the woman who inspired the French character played by Cate Blanchett. Her real name was Rose Valland, and she did keep a meticulous notebook with information about every piece of art shipped out through the museum where she worked in occupied Paris. There is a book about her called Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum. An excerpt from the book available online explains that, unlike Blanchett, she would not have been interested in a liaison with the character played by Matt Damon as she was gay. She also inspired the movie The Train, with Burt Lancaster and Jeanne Moreau, where Resistance operatives have to stop a train carrying art from France to Germany without harming any of the masterpieces on board.
The history of the Monuments Men is still being assembled. Anyone with any documents or photographs should get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org. And anyone who wants to support efforts to recognize the heroism of the Monuments Men can join this group in requesting that they be awarded Congressional Medals of Honor.
The filmmakers have assembled an outstanding collection of teaching materials based on the film, and ministry resources for pastors who want to use the movie’s themes to inspire their congregations as well. for more information, try the documentary called The Rape of Europa, or the book it is based on, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn H. Nicholas.