WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) introduced bipartisan legislation today awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the “Monuments Men,” a group of approximately 350 men and women from 13 countries who are credited with preserving, protecting, and restoring millions of pieces of artwork, sculptures, and other cultural artifacts in Europe during World War II.
Four of the Monuments Men were Missouri natives, and 10 were later employed in Missouri, including two Directors of the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Mo. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (N.J.) and was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Kay Granger (Texas).
“This bipartisan bill honors the incredible men and women of Missouri and across the world who protected millions of cultural artifacts from devastation during World War II and preserved these invaluable treasures for future generations,” said Blunt. “I’m hopeful that this legislation will encourage more Americans to learn about the rich history of these works of art and the remarkable legacies of the Monuments Men.”
Additional Background on the Monuments Men:
The Monuments Men served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Western Allied military effort. They were initially charged with protecting structures, such as churches, museums, and monuments, from destruction. Their responsibilities later shifted to recovering art and artifacts stolen by Nazis across Europe. Today, there are only five living members of the Monuments Men.
Works from many of Europe’s major artists – including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso – were plundered by the Nazis and added to their private collections. Some of the notable pieces preserved by the Monuments Men include Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and Michelangelo’s David. By 1951, they had recovered or restored nearly five million cultural artifacts.
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Roberts Commission to help the U.S. Army protect cultural works in Allied occupied areas. General Dwight Eisenhower told his commanders that “inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve,” and he ordered his commanders to safeguard those treasures.
The story is the subject of multiple books by author Robert Edsel, the most recent of which is The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. While living in Europe, Mr. Edsel became interested in how the monuments and artwork survived the devastation of World War II. He is the Founder and Chairman of the Board for the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. In addition, the story of the Monuments Men is gaining attention with an upcoming movie based on Edsel’s book, starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Bill Murray.
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