The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program was established by the Allied armies in 1943 to help protect cultural property in war areas during World War II. According to Wikipedia, about 400 service members and civilians worked with military forces to safeguard historic and cultural monuments from war damage. Also they found and returned works of art and other items of cultural importance that had been stolen by the Nazis or hidden for protection.
Directed by George Clooney and starring a distinguished troop of celebrities, the movie was filmed in UK and Germany. This production brings to the big screen the decisive moments, when many of the major cultural and artistic artworks of our civilization were about to be lost forever.
We will visit the locations where The Monuments Men was filmed, and also we'll travel to some of the places that played an important role in this story, based in the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.
The movie was based in the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam, and some outdoors were filmed in Berlin. Above, the Neue Wache in Unter den Linden boulevard. Image 20th Century Fox / Alex Jilitsky
The Astronomer by Vermeer (left) was one of the thousands of paintings recovered after the war. On the other side, Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man is one of the masterpieces that were lost during the conflict.
A scene of the film shows the Raphael burning. According to Polish government (the painting belonged to the collection of Czartoryski Museum of Krakow), in 2012 it was found in a bank vault in an 'undisclosed location'. Image 20th Century Fox
Osterwieck is one of the most important locations, along with other cute German towns like Goslar or Halberstadt, that were used for outdoor scenes. Image Stadtkatze
Also the news about the discovery in 2012 of a flat in Munich filled with plundered paintings (not made public until November 2013), raised a lot of international interest in the story. On perfect timing for the release of the movie.
Image 20th Century Fox
Halberstadt in Saxony-Anhalt. If the good guys were the Monuments Men, their counterpart in the Nazi side was the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce. The ERR was an organization dedicated to appropriating cultural property during the war, like the famous and still missing Amber Room from the Catherine Palace in Pushkin, Russia. Image Jürgen Mangelsdorf
Salt mines and castles where used by the Nazis to stock the loot, but also to keep German art legitimately evacuated from museums for safekeeping. Image 20th Century Fox
One of the mines featured in the film is Altaussee, in Austria. This was one of the biggest repositories, containing art works from all over Europe, that were intended for the projected Führermuseum in Linz. Image Monuments Men Foundation
Merkers salt mine, in Thuringia, contained also gold and personal belongings from Nazi concentration camp victims.
Image Pilot Micha
American generals Patton and Eisenhower in Merkers (left). Monuments Men were present in very small numbers at the front lines. There was no established precedent for what they confronted. They frequently entered liberated towns and cities ahead of ground troops, working quickly to assess damage and make temporary repairs before moving on with Allied Armies as they conquered Nazi territory (Wikipedia). Image National Archives / Monuments Men Foundation
An example of the good work of the Monuments Men, was the urgent building of a temporary roof and saving what could be saved of the Camposanto of Pisa, burned by an Allied bomb. The old monumental cemetery was considered one of the most important and priceless artistic treasures in all of Italy. Image Leo von Klenze, Der Camposanto in Pisa, 1858.
The romantic castle of Neuschwanstein was also used as a huge depot for items from Nazi plunder, especially from private collectors and Jews in France. Image Sang yun Lee
Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece is one of the representative artworks chosen in the film to show the fate of these wonders. The fascinating story alone of this set of paintings, could be used to make another film. Image Hans Olofsson
Panels from Ghent Altarpiece in Altaussee. Without question, the allies made an invaluable work thanks to Monuments Men. However, we must also remember that American and British bomb civilians and cities of great artistic value (Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo...) with a ferocity never witnessed before in the annals of war. They called it Terror Bombing.
Image Monuments Men Foundation
In the Battle of Monte Cassino (Italy) in 1944, allied bombing almost totally destroyed the old abbey. This time, the treasures hold in the buildings were moved before the battle by German officers. Image Monuments Men Foundation / Radomił Binek
The historical city of Milan also suffered extensive damage from Allied ruthless attacks. Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper was close to be destroyed in 1943, after Santa Maria delle Grazie chuch was hit by the bombs. Image Monuments Men Foundation
This picture from 1945 is from a church in Ellingen (Bavaria), that US forces used to store some Nazi-looted art. Due to Hollywood propaganda, the perception often is that the Third Reich was vanquished thanks mainly to the US, when it was the Red Army who made the biggest effort to defeat the mighty Wehrmacht. With this film, it may look like Americans were also the saviours of the world art masterpieces... What do you think? Image National Archives
There are several interesting links in this post to keep on reading about these intriguing stories. There is another book and documentary from 2006 to be recommended, The Rape of Europa. Also you can check our post about the awesome Duxford Imperial War Museum, near Cambridge (UK), where the scenes for the war base were filmed.
Image 20th Century Fox