The Monuments Men Pathfinder

The Monuments Men movie tells the true story of the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives Section (MFAA) that was active during World War II. The following subject guides point interested viewers to resources that further discuss the people, art, and issues introduced by the film.

Subject Headings:

Resources that retell the true story of the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives Section (MFAA) during World War II

Context (the battles of the European theater 1943-1945)

Art Repatriation and Restitution for World War II

Historical Studies and Perspectives about Art Repatriation and Restitution

Art Conservation

Art Theft – General Interest

Related Stories about Art and Theft during World War II

Note on resource links: Books are hyperlinked directly to WorldCat so users may find copies in their nearest library. Websites link directly to the indicated URL. Journal articles may link to WorldCat or free full text, as available. All links open in a new tab.


The Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives Section (MFAA) during World War II:

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower inspects stolen artwork in the Merkers salt mines. Behind Eisenhower are General Omar N. Bradley (left), CG of the 12th Army Group, and (right) LT Gen George S. Patton, Jr, CG, 3rd U.S. Army.

In 1943, the Allied Armies created the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, otherwise known as the MFAA or “The Monuments Men”.  These men and women worked to protect the cultural treasures of Europe and to return them to their rightful owners at the end of the war.  While the MFAA also served in Japan, this pathfinder is dedicated to their service in the European Theater, as is the forthcoming movie.

Book: Edsel, Robert and Bret Witter. The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure in History. New York: Center Street Publishing, 2009.

This book is the inspiration for the George Clooney production, to be released this summer.  Edsel and Witter follow the Monuments Men for the chaotic period between the landings at Normandy and the surrender of the Third Reich.

Book: Edsel, Robert. Rescuing Da Vinci: Hitler and the Nazis Stole Europe’s Great Art: America and Her Allies Recovered It.  Dallas: Laurel Publishing, 2006.

Compiled as a visual companion to the book above, Rescuing da Vinci includes 460 photographs of Nazi art museums, Monuments Men, and the cultural treasures they saved.

Book: Edsel, Robert. Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2013.

Edsel returns to his favorite subject, the MFAA.  While his previous works focused on Nazi plunder in northern Europe, this book turns the spotlight on Italy and the efforts of the Monuments Men as retreating Nazis took whatever they could.

Website: The Monuments Men website: news, stories, biographies, blog (

This companion site to Edsel’s book also provides primary sources related to the MFAA, including photos, maps, and paperwork from both the Allies and the Nazis.

Book: Kurtz, Michael. America and the Return of Nazi Contraband: The Recovery of Europe’s Cultural Treasures. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Kurtz’ focus is on the repatriation of art following V-E day.  After the greatest upheaval and dislocation of cultural treasures in world history, the occupying powers struggled to return art to its rightful home.

Website: American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (RG 239)

Established by FDR in 1943, the Roberts Commission attempted to grasp and cope with the enormous scale of cultural restitution during the final year of the war in Europe and after.  At this site, NARA provides online records from microfilm.


Context – Battles of the European Theatre (1943-1945):

U.S. soldiers in Nuremberg, Germany- April 1945.

The year 1943 begins with the dramatic surrender of the German Sixth Army to Soviet forces.  Forbidden by Hitler to retreat, The 6th Army of the Wehrmacht becomes the first field army to be entirely destroyed by the enemy during the urban campaign of the Battle of Stalingrad.  At this battle alone, the Russian Army loses more men than the United States lost during the entire war.  Allied victories continue, with the surrender of German forces in Tunisia in May, ending the North African campaign.  During the rest of 1943, Allied forces battle for control of Italy and Southern Europe as Soviet Armies close in on the Nazi’s eastern front.
On June 4, 1944, the Allies liberate Rome.  Two days later, D-Day begins.  At the end of July, the Allied forces break out of the Normandy beachhead and begin a push towards Paris, which they liberate at the end of August.  In October, US forces return to the Philippines, as promised.  December of 1944 marks the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, the final struggle towards Berlin.
In January 1945, the Soviet army begins its push west through Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and finally Vienna on April 13.  On April 16, Soviet forces encircle Berlin.  Fourteen days later, Adolf Hitler kills himself.  By May 9, the European war is over.  It is in this chaotic environment, in which Germany is quickly partitioned between Allies, that the Monuments Men begin their race to recover, restore, and return the cultural treasures of a continent.

Website: World War II Archives (

Contains many primary source documents about the battles and campaigns going on in the background of the work of the MFAA, as well as timelines and photographs.

Book: Hastings, Max. Armageddon: the Battle for Germany, 1944-1945. New York: Vintage Books, 2005. Print.

Hastings’ excellent book focuses specifically on the last eight months of the war in Europe, as Western Allies and the Soviets fought through Germany.  It looks at the heavy damage inflicted by Allied bombers, the bitter winter fight in the forests of Germany, and the war crimes committed by the Red Army in the push for Berlin.

Website: World War II Timeline from the United States Holocaust Museum

This simple timeline from the USHMM provides an excellent overview of the course of the war, from the rise of Naziism to the surrender of Japan.


World War II casualties by country.

Art Repatriation and Restitution in World War II:


MFAA member searching a Nazi cache of Torah scrolls.

Repatriation is not a new concept, but is one that may never be as big of an issue as it was following the end of World War II. In the context of this pathfinder, repatriation refers to the returning and/ or restitution of art work that was stolen by Nazi forces during the Second World War. The resources here allow researchers to grasp the efforts made by the Monuments Men to locate and return cultural items to their countries of origin and individual pieces to their rightful owners. Numerous foundations also allow researchers to identify those who might be eligible for restitution and detailed histories of artifacts that have been recovered and their current status.

Website: The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art (

The official website of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation for the Arts. This site gives a very concise overview of the foundations goals of preserving the legacy of the Monuments Men. Included in the site are are well formed categories with bulleted lists detailing the objectives of the foundation. Digital photos, videos, and documents of original documents recovered by the Monuments Men can be found on the website as well.

Book: Muller, Melissa and Monika Tatzkow. Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice. New York : Vendome Press, 2010.

The book chronicles the lives of a few prominent Jewish people during World War II whose art collections were seized by Nazis, and their struggle for restitution.

Website: Commission for Art Recovery (

A website for the Commission for Art Recovery. A rich site that enables anyone to use their resources to aid in finding and returning art stolen by Nazi forces during World War II. The site is easily searched through the top menu bar that allows the user to search by case, projects, resources, or bibliographies.

Website: Project Heart: The Holocaust Era Restitution Taskforce (

A site self-proclaimed to be the Holocaust Restitution Task Force. This site’s purpose is to identify those who are victims of Nazi art theft during World War II and reconnect them with stolen property. This is an international site as it is offered in twenty six languages. The site is set up to answer inquiries as to eligibility for their aid in recovering art and/or restitution.

Databases: Smithsonian: Provenance in the World War II Era 1933-1945 (

This specific page offers articles from a Smithsonian Institution database concerning lost art during World War II. The articles are arranged primarily alphabetically by country with a complete title. Some of the articles are available in other languages than English.

Website: National Archives Holocaust Era Assets (

This page of the National Archives and Records Administration main website consists of a photo gallery of Holocaust-Era Assets microfilms as well as a finding aid dedicated to the looting, location, and recovery of cultural as well as monetary items taken from all over the European Theatre of World War II.

Website: Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the U.S.: (

The website of an organization designed to paint the most complete picture of the art that was stolen by Nazis during World War II. It also attempts to identify those whom the items belonged to by providing a list of links to register to apply as a person deserving of restitution or repatriation.

Archival Papers: Colonel Seymour J. Pomerenze papers from the American Jewish Historical Society

The papers of Colonel Seymour Jacob Pomrenze (1916-2011) contain materials relating to his role as the first director of the Offenbach Archival Depot (OAD) in early 1946, which worked to return confiscated Jewish religious cultural objects to their former owners.

Perspectives on Art Restitution and Repatriation:


A flow chart illustrating the nebulous problem of repatriation of cultural property.

Not everyone is convinced that repatriation is fair, and for that matter, legal. Question of statutes of limitation have been raised since the early 1990s. This section of the pathfinder identifies and offers scholarly opinions on the subject. A common question that is raised is why countries need an item back if they already posses a plethora of that item. These specific case studies listed give the researcher different perspectives of the concept of repatriation.

Journal Article:  Roehrenbeck, Carol A. “Repatriation of Cultural Property–Who Owns the Past? An Introduction to Approaches and to Selected Statutory Instruments.” International Journal of Legal Information 38.2 (2010): 185-200.

This article serves to provide the reader with a background on the topic of cultural repatriation. It gives very specific dates as to when repatriation became a global issue and the organizations that are at the forefront of the discussion.

Editorial: Rosenthal, Sir Norman. “The Time has come for a Statute of Limitations.” The Art Newspaper 197 (11 Dec 2008).

The author of this article, a former museum director, argues that there should be a statute of limitations on stolen cultural items from other countries. Also helpful are the comments at the bottom that propose challenges, with evidence against the author’s claims.

Journal Article: Woodward, Colin. “The War Over Plunder: Who Owns Art Stolen in War?.” MHQ: Quarterly Journal Of Military History 22.4 (2010): 44-48.

Discusses ethical and moral aspects of stolen art and cultural property through history, examples of restitution, and how repatriation eventually occurred.

Journal Article: Goodwin, Paige S. “Mapping the Limits of Repatriable Cultural Heritage: A Case Study of Stolen Flemish Art in French Museums.”University of Pennsylvania Law Review 157.2 (Dec., 2008): 673-705.

A case study of stolen Flemish art in French museums. Also challenges repatriation actions and suggests that there should be limits on what can be returned and after how long. This WorldCat search also reveals other relevant articles about the subject of repatriation.

Art Conservation:

George Stout during World War II.

George Stout during World War II.

Robert Edsel states in his book, The Monuments Men, that because of the serious risk of damage to Europe’s cultural heritage, World War II “was the moment for art conservation.” George Stout, one of the members of the MFAA, was a pioneer in the field of conservation, applying scientific principles and study to what was previously considered an art. He also wrote the field guide to conservation that was used by the Monuments Men when assessing and repairing works. The following are selected articles and a book that Stout wrote contemporaneous to World War II, and reflect the conservation work practiced in The Monuments Men:

Journal Article: Stout, George L. “Treatment of blemished paintings.” Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts  Vol. 10 (Oct., 1941): 99-112.

Journal Article: Stout, George L. “Preservation of paintings in war-time.” Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts Vol. 10 (Jan., 1942):161-172.

Journal Article: Stout, George L. “Emergency Storage of Art-Works in Europe.” Museum News Vol. 25 (Dec., 1947): 6.

Book: Stout, George L. The Care of Pictures. New York: Dover Publications, 1948.

Art Theft General:

“Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 and is still missing.

Art theft is not unique to times of war, and can occur at any time from museums, cultural institutions, archaeological sites, and private residences for a variety of reasons. The former head of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, Robert Wittman, states that art theft is tolerated “because it is considered a victimless crime.” As the following resources reveal, art theft impacts more than a single owner and is costly both in terms of monetary value and cultural identity :

Book: Houpt, Simon. The Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2006.

This book from the senior media editor of The Globe and Mail newspaper provides a brief overview of art theft- from war time plunder to museum heists, with an emphasis on the modern era. Also discusses recovery efforts and security measures to prevent theft.

Book:  Amore, Anthony and Tom Mashberg. Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.

This book discusses art theft specifically in the context of museums. Anthony Amore is the Director of Security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and victim of one of the most notorious unsolved art thefts in the United States.

Book: Wittman, Robert. Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures. New York, Crown Publishers, 2010.

This memoir was written by one of the founders and former director of the FBI Art Crime Team, Robert Wittman, and describes his experiences investigating art theft and attempting to recovery stolen property.

Website: The FBI Art Crime Team (

The FBI Art Crime Team was established in 2004 to investigate art and cultural property crime cases in the United States, and assist Interpol with related crimes committed overseas. The website includes a searchable database of reported art thefts, and a form for victims to report stolen property.

Book: Atwood, Roger. Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006.

Journalist and antiquities expert Robert Atwood examines the issue of art theft from the thieves’ perspective. He describes observing Peruvian grave robbers looting an undocumented archaeological site, the demand for such goods by museums and collectors, and the Moche grave goods scandal of 1997 that exposed illicit operations in the global antiquities market.