authors: Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter
genre: Non-fiction, WWII, priceless art, MFAA
suggested by: Mom & BuzzFeed
dates read: June 3rd – June 11th
review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
summary: Common knowledge is that WWII was a tumultuous time for the world. Not-so-common knowledge is the effort of many men and women to protect the priceless works of art that were either being stolen by Hitler and his henchmen, or in danger of being casualties of war. Edsel and Witter work hard to acknowledge the efforts of those brave individuals. Though the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section (MFAA) included individuals from 13 countries, about 350 or so, this book chronicles the stories and journeys of a few of those who were there at the beginning.
personal thoughts: Often told in story form, this book was rich with historical detail. Many letters or notes from the journals of the men (there was one woman included in the characters) who made up the MFAA were used to make it even more personal. It was unbelievable what they went through to save works of art, the sacrifices they made, and the few resources they were given to complete their impossible task. Unlikely heroes and hard working men, they were inspirational in their accomplishments despite the odds. Much of what they did was never acknowledged while they were alive but I’m glad that this work exists to honor them.
“It was disjointed somehow, but beneath the surface he could sense order, an appropriateness in both time and space, a composition that appeared messy until, suddenly, you saw beneath the strokes the system at work.” p. 51
“while he was a man of paper, Ronald Balfour was no paper man. He might not look like a soldier with his small frame and scholar’s wire-rimmed glasses, but he had a backbone of iron and a desire to fight.” p. 55
“the secret, he believed, to success in any endeavor: to be a careful, knowledgeable, and efficient observer of the world, and to act in accordance with what you saw.” p. 60
“War did not come like a hurricane, Rorimer realized, destroying everything in its path. It came like a tornado, touching down in patches, taking with it one life while leaving the next person unharmed.” p. 79
“To save the culture of your allies is a small thing. To cherish the culture of your enemy, to risk your life and the life of other men to save it, to give it all back to them as soon as the battle was won… it was unheard of, but that is exactly what Walker Hancock and the other Monuments Men intended to do.” p. 254
“the lasting impact of [Hitler’s] bitter reign is best measured in more ephemeral ways: fifty million loved ones who never returned home from the war to rejoin their families or start one of their own; brilliant, creative contributions never made to our world because scientists, artists, and inventors lost their lives too early or were never born; cultures built over generations reduced to ashes and rubble because one human being judged groups of other human beings less worthy than his own.” p. 401