A recently discovered album donated to the National Archives by Monuments Men Foundation President Robert M. Edsel is on display until February 20, 2014. The album is open to a photograph of an important painting by master French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Girl Holding a Dove was repatriated by the Monuments Men in 1946. It sold at auction in 2000 for over $5 million.
In addition to the Featured Document display, the National Archives will host an evening with Robert Edsel on Wednesday, February 19, at 7 p.m. Edsel will discuss his books and the recent film adaptation starring George Clooney, and his work as founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art.
Perhaps the most unlikely heroes to emerge from World War II, the Monuments Men (and women) were a multinational group of curators, art historians, and museum directors who saved centuries of artistic and cultural treasures from destruction. Trading hushed galleries and libraries for besieged European cities, the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives Program risked their lives to protect museums, churches, and monuments from combat.
They also tracked down and recovered thousands of priceless artworks stolen by the Nazis—much of it from Jewish families. In the final weeks of the war, the Monuments Men discovered numerous hiding places—including mines and abandoned castles—where the Nazis had buried priceless works of art and where they planned to destroy it if they lost the war.
The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, was the main agency involved in the systematic looting of cultural treasures in Nazi-occupied countries. The ERR created a series of albums meticulously documenting the thefts. The Monuments Men discovered 39 of these albums in 1945 and used them to restore artworks to their owners. These volumes also served as evidence in the Nuremburg trials and are in the holdings of the National Archives.