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 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.