Last month, Glenn went to see the film Monuments Men, which is based on historian Robert M. Edsel’s book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. Glenn is a big fan of the story, and he was impressed with the film adaptation as well. On radio this morning, Glenn was joined by Edsel to discuss the history of the story and his efforts to ensure those involved receive proper recognition.
To begin, Glenn asked Edsel to explain how he stumbled upon the story. As he explained, the story stemmed from one simple question: If Europe was so ravaged by World War II, how did so many works of art survive, and who were the people who saved them?
“I moved to Florence in 1996… My son was 2-years-old. I wasn't spending the kind of time with him I wanted to, so I needed to create just a break to go learn about some new things and traveled around Europe and settled in Florence and started studying art and architecture,” Edsel explained. “One day I asked this question just out of curiosity: If Europe was so beat up by the war, 65 million lives lost, how did so many works of art survive and who were the people who saves them. And I didn't know what the answer was. I wasn't embarrassed about that, but I was hugely embarrassed it never occurred to me to ask.”
Much to his surprise, no one seemed to know the answer to that question. That lack of information led to his research that is chronicled in several books including The Monuments Men.
“So World War II is the most documented, photographed event in history. And you'd figure there would be books of photographs about this period. There weren't, which is why my first book, Rescuing da Vinci was a photographic telling,” Edsel said. “But then I really realized what we were lacking was this narrative telling through these men's and women's letters home during the war where they described their feelings: What was it like being a middle-aged guy… not knowing whether you're ever going to see your small kid again and walking into salt mines and finding thousands of stolen works of art? What was that like?”
Six of these ‘monuments men’ are still alive today, and Edsel’s goal – through his books, the film, and his foundation – is to complete the mission of these individuals and properly recognize these heroes with Congressional Gold Medals.
“So the Monuments Men Foundation, I founded in 2007, is a not-for-profit entity,” Edsel said. “We're completing the mission of the Monuments Men. The original goal was raise worldwide awareness. The film is helping us accomplish that. Now there are going to be hundreds of millions of people around the world.”
Edsel’s book has been translated in 34 languages, and his foundation has slowly but surely started collecting these artifacts. If you have any information that could be of use, Edsel encouraged listeners to call 1.866.WWII.ART. Furthermore, you can contact your congressman through the Monuments Men Foundation website to let him/her know you would like these brave men and women to be recognized. Contact your congressman HERE.
One story I think you'll be interested in, the Monuments Men book has been translated in 34 languages. When it was translated into Chinese, I contacted our publisher there and said, why in the world are you all interested in this and they said because Chinese people can't believe you gave it all back.
“What an honor to be able to talk to Robert Edsel. The world didn't know about this – one of the greatest stories in American history, one of the greatest stories in world history. No country has ever done this before,” Glenn concluded. “And we can help get them medals by going to MonumentsMenFoundation.org… Let's not wait. Before they die, let's honor these guys. And if you haven't seen the Monuments Men or read it, please do. It is truly a remarkable story.”