‘The Monuments Men’: Heroes Saving Masterpieces During World War II

George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, and Hugh Boneville are among the stars cast in the new war movie The Monuments Men, directed by Clooney.

The real life story about a different group of of World War II heroes who fought the Nazis, not for control of land but to save invaluable pieces of art, while dodging bullets and bombs from their enemies.

Hitler and his henchmen were bound on destroying all expressions of art across Europe to further control the minds of the already burdened citizens.

In what is considered by many to be the greatest pillage in the history of mankind, Hitler had ordered that personal and public collections of art be confiscated and destroyed.

The Monuments Men

In The Monuments Men Matt Damon portrays James Granger, who was based on the real-life person James Rorimer, whose son Louis recently saw the film and thought that Damon’s character “was a great reflection of my father – [the] integrity, seriousness.”

Rorimer worked as a curator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval collection before the war and as The Monuments Men shows, he traveled to Paris to try to learn the whereabouts of works of art from Rose Valland, a Frenchwoman who had observed the Nazis’ movements.

Rorimer said his father’s activities during World War II were often discussed when he was growing up and when the author of the book, The Monuments Men Robert M. Edsel — on which the movie is based — was doing his research, his sister Annie was able to give Edsel letters that James Rorimer — who passed away in 1966 — had written during the war.

“If you like extraordinary treasure hunts, it’s got something for everybody,” said Robert Edsel. “There’s no way you can’t be interested in this story.”

Edsel says that The Monuments Men story haunted him and became an obsession of his.

“I like to think of it as a passion, some say obsession.” he adds he became interested in the story after he sold his multi-million dollar business and moved to Italy.

“I was walking across one of the bridges in Florence one day, the Ponte Vecchio, the one bridge that wasn’t destroyed during World War II by the Nazis. And it occurred to me, almost this epiphany: how did all these great works of art survive the destructiveness of World War II? And who were the people that saved them?”

The Monuments Men

Esel discovered that the Nazis systematically went around Europe stealing unique pieces of art by visiting the best known museums and confiscating masterpieces.

The author also discovered that a group of US soldiers were also, systematically, trying to preserve not only pieces of art, but architecture in the rich, ancient European continent, even going to the lengths of relaying information to allied planes as to where not to drop their bombs.

George Clooney’s films tells the story of these brave men, who not only fought to rescue art from the Nazis, but after the war set on the mission to return the recovered pieces to their rightful owners.

The Monuments Men is now playing in theaters.

[Image via Columbia Pictures]