Records of the Monuments Men at the National Archives
Whenever I see a film that starts with the phrase “Based on a True Story,” the second I get home I immediately start looking up to see where dramatic license was taken. This happened most recently after seeing “American Hustle” which is based on the ABSCAM sting operation of the 1970s (though that film opened with a more truthful statement—“some of this actually happened”).
Films based on major historical events are often based on records from the National Archives. This is especially true with the upcoming film “The Monuments Men” which opens this Friday, February 7th.
The film tells the story of the Monuments Men—a group of curators, art historians, artists, architects and archivists from the Allied nations who volunteered to help preserve the culture of Europe by protecting its works of art. During Germany’s conquest of Europe, a Nazi party group known as the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (or ERR) stole millions of paintings, manuscripts, sculptures, furniture and other cultural materials. These cultural artifacts were slated either for destruction or to be displayed in a future Fuhrermuseum. In the final months of World War II and continuing for years afterward, the Monuments Men worked to protect these treasures and return them to their rightful owners.
In the war’s aftermath, The Monuments Men were aided by the discovery of 39 photo albums created by the ERR documenting their theft. These albums also served as evidence during the Nuremburg Trials as proof of the massive Nazi art looting operations. These 39 albums are now part of the National Archives. And recently, 3 additional albums taken by individual US troops during the war have been donated to the National Archives by Robert Edsel, author of the book on which the upcoming film is based and founder of the Monuments Men Foundation. One of these photo albums is on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC through February 20th.
But you don’t have to go to Washington, DC to see that album and others that document the work of the Monuments Men. They have been added to DocsTeach!
Just visit www.docsteach.org/documents and search “monuments men” to find documents and photographs about their exploits. There you can find photos of the discovery and the return of works by artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Manet. In addition, selections are highlighted from volumes compiled as evidence for the Nuremburg trials.
For more information about the Monuments Men and related records at the National Archives:
- International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property
- Monuments Men Series of Blogs