DALLAS — With George Clooney, Matt Damon, and others, the new film "The Monuments Men" is sure to draw new attention to a man who’s toiled for decades to document the Allied soldiers who worked to rescue valuable art from the Nazis in World War II.
The film is based on one of the books by Dallas-raised Robert Edsel. His Dallas-based Monuments Men Foundation has been searching for art stolen by the Hitler regime for years.
“There are many, many things — I’m sure into the millions of things — that won’t ever be found because they were destroyed in war," he said.
Edsel started the Monuments Men Foundation years ago after selling his oil business and moving to Europe, where he his love of art and curiosity about how it weathered World War II became a passion. He learned some of it did survive, some didn’t, and a lot disappeared.
Had the Nazis had their way, it all would have vanished; plundered from families and nations on an unimaginable scale.
“The numbers of things that Hitler and the Nazis stole run into the tens of millions... some people say 20 million," Edsel said.
To track it all down during the war, the Allies assembled art experts — “monuments men” — who scoured the continent looking for everything snatched and, Edsel said, had some successes.
“There were five million things — five million objects that the monuments officers found and returned to the countries from which these things were taken,” he said.
Two years ago, Edsel provided the national archives with two valuable photo albums of the stolen art that Hitler and his henchmen plundered. Edsel discovered them while interviewing 178 of the original monuments men for multiple books and projects.
Only five team members are still with us. The youngest is 89 years old.
They depend on supporters like Edsel to continue searching.
“There are still things that are out there; In particular, in attics and basements and hanging on walls of veterans and kids of veterans, like me,” he said.
That’s part of the reason he agreed to act as consultant on the new movie, based on his second book — to draw attention to the monuments men and their continuing mission.
“You know, there’s no getting away from it; no matter how good a book you write, you cannot reach the audience that a feature film can," Edsel said. "Especially one with these kinds of actors.”
The Monuments Men Foundation received the National Humanities medal in 2007.
Robert Edsel would like to see further recognition for these men who righted wrongs done to families and nations and saved works of by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and others.
Contact the Monuments Men Foundation if you would like to get involved in helping to find lost treasures.