The 'Monuments Men', saviors of countless art treasures looted in WWII, received a Congressional Gold Medal this week.
Before Richard Barancik was a successful Chicago architect, he helped safeguard some of Europe's most valuable pieces of Western culture plundered by the Nazis.
Seventy years later, it remains difficult for him to fathom the theft of millions of paintings, sculptures, drawings, pieces of furniture and other objects at the close of World War II, detailed by Robert Edsel in his 2009 book, “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.” The book was made into a film by George Clooney.
“All for their own selfish pursuit,” Barancik said on Thursday, before he and three of the surviving “Monuments Men” — Harry Ettlinger, Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite and Bernard Taper — were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation's highest civilian awards.
They were members of an Allied armies unit assigned to recover the works of art stolen from homes, museums, churches and elsewhere. The approximately 350 civilian soldiers — mostly middle-aged men and women who were historians, architects and museum personnel prior to the war — were part of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section.
“Their initial responsibility was to mitigate combat damage, primarily to structures — churches, museums, and other important monuments,” Edsel wrote of the Monuments Men. “As the war progressed and the German border was breached, their focus shifted to locating movable works of art and other cultural items stolen or otherwise missing.”
In May 2014, Congress voted overwhelmingly to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the unit for their heroic role in preserving works of cultural importance. Relatives of deceased Monuments Men also attended Thursday's bipartisan ceremony, along with members of Congress.
Hitler had planned to house the stolen art in a museum in his hometown of Linz, Austria.
“They sold more modern works, such as Impressionist pieces, and used proceeds to purchase works they sought for the Linz collection,” Campbell Karlsgodt wrote. “Others they considered ‘degenerate' — Surrealist, Expressionist and Cubist pieces, and they burned thousands of them in Berlin and Paris.”
Ettlinger, who was born to a Jewish family in Germany before moving to New Jersey and being drafted by the Army, said the world should not forget that the spoils of war do not always belong to the victor.
To read the complete article, see:
'Monuments Men' are honored with Congressional Gold Medal
Below are images of the medal and text from the U.S. Mint web site and press release.
Designer: Joel Iskowitz
Engraver: Phebe Hemphill
Description: a portrayal of soldiers in action, lifting and removing objects from a cave or mine location where Monuments Men discovered stolen works. The artwork depicted represents major works of historic significance the group recovered. The design includes the inscription “MONUMENTS MEN.”
Designer: Donna Weaver
Engraver: Joseph Menna
Description: features some of the thousands of works of art that were at risk from damage, destruction or theft by Nazi forces, surrounding the inscriptions “IT IS OUR PRIVILEGE TO PASS ON TO THE COMING CENTURIES TREASURES OF PAST AGES” and “GEN. DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER.” The design also includes the inscription “ACT OF CONGRESS 2014.”
To read the complete article, see:
Monuments Men Receive Congressional Gold Medal
Wayne Homren, Editor
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