Writer brings extraordinary story of ‘Monuments Men’ to Fort Wayne

Robert Edsel

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Some of the world’s most famous pieces of art still sit in European museums, and will for generations. But have you ever wondered how did it survive the most destructive war in history– World War II? Robert Edsel asked that same question. It’s an extradoridnay tale, and Edsel was in Fort Wayne on Tuesday to tell it.

While living in Florence, Italy Robert Edsel, a former businessman and ranked tennis player, saw all the art and asked the question. No one knew. So, he went on a search for the answer, and the end result was his New York Times Best Sellers book Monuments Men: Allies Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.

Edsel found out it was a group of museum curators, art enthusiasts and others of the like who helped save more than 4 million works of art during the war. The Monuments Men and women went behind enemy lines to recover stolen pieces of art, and were behind keeping some of the world’s most valued pieces safe like da Vinci’s The Last Supper and Mona Lisa.

George Clooney adapted the book into a Hollywood movie in 2014. Edsel said people relate to the Monuments Men even if they don’t like art.

“Everybody’s been to a museum at one time,” Edsel said. “Art is so pervasive in our culture. I mean people think about [Dan Brown’s book] The Da Vinci Code. Suppose The Last Supper had been destroyed in August 1943. A British bomb landed 90 feet away. It’s an absolute miracle that it did survive.”

Edsel also set up the Monuments Men Foundation to advocate for the preservation of art and cultures.

“I think that the protection of these things is important for a lot of reasons not the least of which these things belong to all of us,” Edsel said. “They’re part of our shared cultural heritage. Now we can travel around the world, and see these things. Do you want to be able to see them? Do you think it’s important that your kids be able to see them.? If so they’re like little kids in kindergarten. They can’t protect themselves someone’s got to do it.”

Thousands of pieces of art were never recovered after the war. The foundation also continues the Monuments Men mission to recover those pieces.

Edsel was the second speaker at this year’s IPFW’s Omnibus Lecture Series.