By Lariena Nokes
In his Feb. 1 Dillon Lecture, Robert Edsel presented an informative speech about rescuing, preserving and returning the great art of the world to its rightful owners.
Edsel told story of the original “monuments men” of World War II, then followed up with information about soldiers currently serving as monuments officers in the American military.
“Is art worth dying for?” Edsel asked.
This thought-provoking question was the focal point of the author’s presentation.
When the timeless value of art is compared to human lives during a war, some chose to risk their lives to save the art.
Many say the crimes perpetrated by Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich during World War II upon the Jewish people and the world is the greatest atrocity in world history.
As the Holocaust blazed, another atrocity was being carried out by the German SS under Hitler’s orders.
Much of the historical art and antiquities of Europe were stolen and hidden in mines all over the war-torn countries.
Hitler’s orders were to seize the works of art so he could fill the museum he dreamed of building.
Years after being rejected as an art student for lack of talent, Hitler sought to steal the world’s greatest art works and claim the collection as his own.
As opposing armies gained and lost ground during the war, little thought was given to protecting the art, architecture, and history of the countries involved.
There were, however, men and women who did think about it.
The soldier-scholars, motivated by their love of art, joined the battle and succeeded in preserving, protecting, and returning the masterpieces stolen by the Nazi’s to the rightful owners.
Early in the war, museums’ collections were evacuated to protect the work of the artistic masters and save them for future generations to admire.
Edsel — who spent several years as a pro tennis player, an innovator in the oil and gas industry in Texas and Italy — became interested the cultural treasures of the world while living in Italy. He wondered how they survived the war.
He eventually learned about the men and women who left their lives and families to rescue many of the world’s great artworks during the war.
There were 12 original monuments men and women, in this small, little known unit during World War II.
Edsel eventually published a book that was made into a major movie.
There are six surviving members of the original group. Edsel has founded the Monuments Men Foundation.
Its goals include the creation and of a Congressional Gold Medal, for the surviving members of the group.
The foundation also seeks to continue the original mission of protecting and preserving artwork and antiquities, and educating the public about the great works of art and their value.