George Clooney’s ‘Monuments Men’ World’s Greatest Treasure Hunt of Stolen Artworks by Hitler during WWII
Shooting in Berlin right now is George Clooney’ latest production Monuments Men.
The screenplay is co-written by Clooney and his long-time producer Grant Heslov and based on the non-fiction book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel.
The movie is about a special group of allied soldiers and cultural workers whose mission is to recover hundreds of thousands of artworks stolen by the Germans during WWII before Hitler ordered them destroyed.
Set in 1942, Monuments Men has an all-star cast that includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Jean Dujardin, Daniel Craig, John Goodman, Bill Murray etc. The WWII period drama will come out in Dec 2013 which could become a serious Oscar contender for Oscar 2014.
The movie is said to be inspired by true events which usually means that some facts maybe altered for dramatic effects. And experts are pointing out historical inaccuracies in the story e.g. there is no evidence that Hitler ordered the artwork destroyed when he realized that he was losing the war.
Many priceless artworks were stolen by the Nazis which Hitler wanted to build a museum in Linz, Germany, his birthplace to host some of the stolen treasures. That didn’t pan out and the evil Fuhrer committed suicide just before the Russia army stormed Berlin which ended the war.
Hitler himself was a failed artist as he had been rejected entry to the Vienna Academy of Art, one time in 1908 when he wasn’t even allowed to take part in the exam. In later years when he came into political power, he saw himself as a connoisseur of fine arts and certainly regarded his looted artworks as his prized treasures.
As the monuments men discovered, many of the stolen artworks were found in caves and mines which guarded against allied bombings during the war and provided an ideal environment that is not too wet and not too dry for the treasures.
As it turned out, some of today’s tourist hotspots including the Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Germany was one of the places that hid thousands of stolen paintings and artifacts during the war.
Ironic as it may seem, the enemy is within and not from the German troops. One of the monuments men’s major tasks is to protect the cultural treasures of a city that are in the battlefield. These included museums, churches and other monuments form being damaged. As the Allied force kept advancing in the battlefield, the bombings became more indiscreet without adequate knowledge of the surrounding that they were destroying. In saving these cultural objects during the war, very often the group’s major concern was to avoid being killed by friendly fires.
Recently, seven paintings that were hanging in the Louvre are being returned to their rightful owners, the Jewish families who fled Europe during WWII some 70 years earlier. To be fair, not just the Nazis stole artworks, the Russian army and even American soldiers participated in looting. Not all stolen artworks are recovered. Some are still missing and some artworks’ ownership is unknown and they continue to hang in galleries around the world until someone can prove that the artwork belongs to them.
Edsel described the work of the Monuments Men as “the greatest treasure hunt in history — one that continues to this day.”
By 1951, the Monuments Men had processed and returned more than 5 million stolen objects. Yet, hundreds of thousands of works remained missing. Edsel further added that “no similar effort has been made by the U.S. in any subsequent conflict,” citing the American invasion of Iraq as an example where looters took a tremendous amounts of treasures dating back 5,000 years or more at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.
Ray Van Eng is an award-winning Photographer/Videographer, Screenwriter and Movie & TV Producer. One of his videos is currently on view at the Hava Nagila Exhibit, Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Manhattan, New York, NY. from Sep 2012 to May 2013.
City of Berlin, Germany
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