The Real Monuments MenJuxtapoz // Friday, 07 Feb 2014
With the arrival of Hollywood's "Monuments Men" movie we were intrigued about this story and did a little digging. Founded in 1943, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program under the Civil Affairs and Military Government departments of the Allied forces was established to protect cultural property in war zones during and post World War II. Made up of about 350 service members, their mission was to safeguard historic and cultural monuments from war damage, and Allied, Russian, and Nazi looting.
Under Hitler's authority, the Nazis amassed hundreds of thousands of antiquities from the occupied nations and stored them in key locations, like the Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Nazi headquarters in Munich. As the Allied forces advanced on the Axis power, Germany began storing the artworks in salt mines and caves for protection from bombing raids.
Known as the Kunstschutz, was the Nazi force deemed responsible for the majority of art theft from 1933 until the end of World War II. Items stolen include, gold, currency, paintings, ceramics, books, and religious treasures. Many of these items were recovered by the Allies immediately following the war, but many are still missing, such as Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man.
The second Roberts Commission tasked the Monuments Men to travel to previously Nazi-occupied territories to uncover the art caches. Toward the end of the war the Monuments Men were challenged with keeping Allied and Russian forces from plundering and taking artworks and sending them stateside to family. The Monuments Men even resorted marking artworks with white tape, normally used to mark unexploded land mines. The identifiable works of art were sent back to the countries from which they were taken, where the governments of each nation would assume the responsibility of returning the stolen artworks.