Not only was Adolph Hitler a diabolical, genocidal despot, he was also a thief. As he and the Nazis made their way across Europe, they stole tens of thousands of pieces of priceless artwork from their European conquests and Jewish prisoners, including renowned works by Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Jan van Eyck.
In June of 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt approved the formation of the “American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas” to combat the Nazi thieves. Also called “The Roberts Commission,” after its chairman, Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts, the group was charged with promoting the preservation of cultural properties in war areas (as long as they didn’t interfere with military operations).
In his book, “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” author Robert M. Edsel tells the story of the approximately 345 men and women, from 13 nations, who worked to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from destruction during World War II. According to the book, the Commission tracked, located and returned more than 5 million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis.
Edsel is also the founder of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, which works to preserve the legacy of the Commission. He discusses his book on Feb. 9 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Penn Law School. For more information, contact Jeanne Leong at 215-573-8151 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published on February 4, 2010