Why the Real “Monuments Men” Were So Important

By: Daniel Chadwick-Shubat

All the way back in November I entered a Remembrance Day essay contest here in Canada that was province wide. I wrote an essay titled; “The Monuments Men”. First thing that would come to mind for a lot of you is the movie starring George Clooney and Matt Damon. But I was writing about the real people and the sacrifices they made in World War II and still make in war zones today. I recently received news that I won first prize in my regional area and placed second in the whole of Ontario! This was really exciting news and in honor of this websites motto on “getting real” I wanted to share this essay with you and hear your thoughts.

War has plagued millions of lives for thousands of years. It’s a part of life and sadly has destroyed millions of lives. But many people don’t consider the impact it has on people’s culture and way of life. When Hitler tried to conquer the world he tried to wipe the Jews off the face of the Earth. He took everything away from them, furniture, family pictures, houses and ultimately their lives. There was never a clearer example of the dehumanization of a specific religion or creed. This unthinkable barbaric act not only meant the murder of over 6 million people but also the destruction of thousands of homes, books and pieces of art.

This is why it’s so shocking that so many people don’t know about the Monuments Men, men and women from 13 different countries who went across Europe during World War II risking their lives to save millions of historically significant buildings and pieces of art. Notably they saved the Madonna and Child  (Michelangelo) and the Ghent Altarpiece (Hubert Van Eyck). Recently a movie was made about these brave men and women but this film only scratched the surface. Many people still have no idea about what these brave men and women actually accomplished and did for their countries, and the entire world. They preserved many people’s identity and way of life by not only finding these stolen pieces of art but many times returned them to their original owners, many of them Jews, who were picking up the pieces of their shattered lives after the horrors of the Holocaust.

You can kill people, murder their families and steal all their money. But when you take away what they make, the signs of their culture, that’s when society breaks down. This was evident in the Holocaust and is evident today in war stricken zones such as Iraq and Sudan. Many countries did not realise that they were destroying people’s way of life and culture. Even today there are Monuments Men out in the world trying to prevent this from happening again. One of the most important lessons we are taught is to learn from our (and other’s) mistakes. We can not do what Hitler did and destroy people’s way of life. Because of this man many people lost their identities in the War and never regained it. That’s why Monuments Men are heroes because they save people’s way of life and gave many a reason to keep on living.

Some might ask if art is worth dying for. The best answer for that question is that of Deane Keller, a Monuments Men officer who worked in Italy during World War II: “No work of art is worth the life of a single boy, but to risk your life for a way of life that includes respect for cultural property, yes, it is worth the risk”. These men and women were ready to lose their lives so our way of life and history could be preserved. Today’s youth can learn a lot from these men and women who are the reason we still have beautiful pieces of art from the likes of Monet, Van Gogh, Michelangelo and Da Vinci.

So on this Remembrance Day I will not only remember and honour the men and women who fought for our freedom, but specifically the ones who preserved many culture’s way of life. These heroic men and women are seldom talked about but have done so much for the global community. Even today there are men and women who are hard at work, protecting today’s historical artifacts and items of importance in war stricken zones. This Remembrance Day remember not only all the soldiers but also the brave men and women who protect our way of life. Remember the Monuments Men.

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