George Clooney retrieves Hitler’s museum
A soldier of the ‘Monuments Men’ retrieves a print of Dürer.
The massive looting of works of art perpetrated by Nazi Germany throughout Europe remains an unsolved case almost 70 years after its defeat in 1945. This is the only way it is explained that last November the Munich Prosecutor’s Office announced the appearance in a city apartment of more than 1,400 works of art, including Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall from a large part of the plundering of the Third Reich. They had remained hidden in the hands of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Hildebrand, one of the art dealers under Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
Not so much attention was paid to the no less incredible report published by the Association of Dutch Museums only a week earlier, in which it recognized that some 136 works from the collections of its museums could come from the plundering of the Nazis.
In the midst of the storm over the renewed interest in the plundering of the Second World War, which has had its continuation last week, with the discovery of another 60 works in another house by Cornelius Gurlitt in Salzburg (Austria), the new film by the actor and director George Clooney on the fantastic history of the Monuments Men, which portrays, precisely, the operation of the Allied army to protect and recover the stolen art.
The story of the “men of the monuments”, which George Clooney has adapted from the book of the same title by the historian Robert M. Edsel, is nothing more than the nickname received by the members of a tiny section of the allied army known as the MFAA -Monuments and Fine Art and Archives-, responsible for the protection of the artistic heritage during the Allied advance in Europe and the recovery and restitution of the pieces stolen by the Nazis. A huge task for such a small group.
The characters of this special command that Clooney portrays are not vaguely inspired by reality, since, although there are small differences, it was really a very small group that made up very particular soldiers: a curator of a Boston Museum, George Stout, – which is based on the character played by Clooney himself-a Metropolitan art curator, James Rorimer-Matt Damon-a sculptor, Walter Hancock, -John Goodman-, an archaeologist Richard Balfour -Hugh Bonnenville- an architect, Robert Posey-Bill Murray- and a choreographer Lincoln Kirstein -Bob Balaban-.
The last two were those who went into the darkness of the Altaussee mines, Austria, salt exploitation in which they discovered the most massive lair of the plundered art. Although they had arrived there after collecting different testimonies while penetrating with Patton’s army in Germany, they could not imagine, however, the enormity of that treasure cave.
Almost like the story of A Thousand and One Nights, the underground complex of 138 tunnels guarded an impressive warehouse, hidden underground, full of pieces of art stolen from over half of Europe and of incalculable value, including the sculpture of The Virgin of Bruges by Michelangelo, panels of the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck or The Astronomer of Vermeer.
That booty was Hitler’s museum, the frustrated Fuhrermuseum of the pillage.
After two years crawling with the army from the Normandy Landing, assessing damage, proposing repairs, avoiding, whenever possible, the bombing of artistic sites, and trying to locate missing works, the Monuments Men had discovered the most prized place of looting systematic of the Third Reich, along with many others, such as the mines of Merkers and Bertenrode or the castle of Neuschwanstein.
Along with the hundreds of warehouses found by the Monuments Men, they were nevertheless only a part, although important, of the puzzle in which the Nazi hammer had fractured the private and national collections, both of the Jewish citizens and of the conquered countries of almost All Europe.
Church of Ettlingen, Germany. An American soldier contemplates the packed art pieces.
The momentum of the Monuments Men’s extraordinary plan came from the museum and academic elite of the USA, with the Metropolitan Museum of New York and Harvard University at the head, represented by Paul Sachs and George Stout, director and diligent expert and curator respectively from the Fogg Museum in Harvard, Boston, in mid-1942, shortly after the United States entered the war.
A year earlier, the British government had already warned the rest of the artistic community of looting by the Nazis in the occupied territories and the eventual sales of works in neutral countries, but, alone before the Nazi war machine, they postponed any initiative that was not to survive.
Nothing took shape until well into the war, in 1943, when British and Americans evicted Erwin Rommel from North Africa, and after the subsequent disembarkation in Sicily in August of that year. In Leptis Magna, -Libia-, and Sicily, and then in Naples, the magnificence of the ancient ruins, exposed to the destruction of the war, finally attracted the attention of the Allies after the reports of the English archaeologist Lord Woolley. , during the months before the war and especially after the Night of Broken Glass (1938), was when the stripping of works of art of all kinds began to Jewish families, either through coerced sales below its value-, if not directly through confiscation and robbery. Unlike Clooney’s film, the condition imposed was that it be integrated by army personnel. George Stout, the pioneer along with Paul Sachs of the salvage plan, enlisted in the navy, was the first choice. With him, seven other men formed the first section of the MFAA destined in Europe, without counting the Italian front, whose MFAA were under another division. They recovered an essential part of the pillage, but the reality is that while the Monuments Men were created in The offices of Washington and London in 1943, many of the works were flying precisely to various galleries in New York and elsewhere, where they were absorbed by private collectors and disappeared from the map for years. By 1950, the activity on the restitution ceased. In Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands some of them have now appeared, others will appear in the next few years, and even then they will be left unclaimed. Despite the effort and dedication of the Monuments Men that saved thousands of works, the puzzle of the greatest theft in history is still incomplete.
The World Source: