Welcome back to the 2019 edition of “Hitting the Books”! With the support of producer Olivia Witherite, editor Pete Kerzel and you as readers, let’s try another trip into the stacks.
As from the beginning, the idea is a look at books I’ve enjoyed and would like to pass along. We will be joined at times by guests-managers, players, coaches, and broadcasters-who’ll tell us their favorite reads. Your comments are always welcome.
Preservation of art in a time of war. That was the work of “Monuments Men.”
They were men of art, from the U.S. and Britain, to include the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a professor of art, a sculptor, the founder of the New York City Ballet and the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
They were soldiers. They volunteered to save the greatest art treasures known to man through a special unit in the Army, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section. The treasures they sought were being stolen and horded by Hitler and his Nazi thugs.
The Nazis stole from galleries, from Jewish private collections, from museums, from the Louvre and from churches all over Europe. These art masterpieces were hidden by the thieves, but where? Would they be destroyed as Nazi Germany collapsed?
In addition, these few who were Monuments Men, only some 60 total by the end of the war, were additionally charged by the Allied commander in chief, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, to fulfill this order: “important artistic and historical sites are not to be bombed,” except to protect soldiers.
So these men marched with the Army from D-Day’s shores to Berlin, searching for the world’s art treasures and protecting sites from war’s ravages.
That story is this book. The pages won’t turn fast enough.
Author Robert Edsel wrote the work in 2009. He is the founder of the Monuments Men Foundation.
If you go to that site, you will find recently discovered audio of a speech Gen. Eisenhower gave at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1946 when he was awarded an honorary life fellowship for his leadership in preserving art during war, a conundrum he speaks to eloquently.
“The freedom enjoyed by this country from the desolation that has swept over so many others during the past years gives to America greater opportunity than ever before to become the greatest of the world’s repositories of art,” he said. “The whole world will then have a right to look to us with grateful eyes; but we will fail unless we consciously appreciate the value of art in our lives and take practical steps to encourage the artist and preserve his works.”
I was absolutely captivated by the speech, a reminder of what leadership looks and sounds like in times of crisis.
This is a book about heroes, who like so many others in that terrible war, came home to little acclaim and said little about what they accomplished-and what they suffered.
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ― Pablo Picasso
Gary Thorne is the play-by-play voice of the Orioles on MASN, and the 2019 season is his 13th with the club and 34th covering Major League Baseball. His blog will appear regularly throughout the season. The Orioles and Sarasota County, for the eighth consecutive year, partnered on the Big League Reader Program, which rewarded kids who read three books in February and early March with tickets to a Grapefruit League game at Ed Smith Stadium.
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