Continuing my thoughts on the most notable sections of The Monuments Men, Robert Edsel, the author of the book takes us through the various tasks the men of the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program under the US Military during World War Two) had to accomplish during the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944. Given almost no resources whatsoever (not even radios), they were expected to act as advisers to combat units, often engaged in open firefights. Edsel tells the most from the perspective of Lt. George Stout, a middle aged “dapper” man who was profoundly passionate about the endeavor trying to save the famous works of art and antiquity. Moving at a dash throughout the north of France following the invasion, Stout did a great deal to protect old and threatened buildings, especially churches from destruction, not only from artillery fire and bombs, but also from the allied commandos destroying them in order to build roads for the incoming troops. Aside from monuments in France, the book also delves into one particular abbey in Italy known as “Monte Cassino” that the advancing allies of Patton’s army had to figure out what do with, as the possibility that the German/Italian forces were using it as a base to attack the them was a very real one. After a struggle going on several weeks, the Allies eventually decided to bomb the abbey, leveling it and destroying virtually its rich library. The axis powers utilized this event to the fullest, publishing pamphlets of propaganda giving the idea that the allies cared not for important cultural monuments. It was events like these that put the “monuments men” into full action, saving as much as they could and salvaging what could be salvaged following combat confrontations.
While the narrative occasionally become slightly tedious, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as it made the curating connection especially real to me by associating curation and preservation with a very realistic and historical threat.