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Soldiers That Inspired ‘The Monuments Men’ Have Strong Missouri Ties

The Monuments Men review
Sony Pictures

Last weekend, the movie “The Monuments Men” debuted at the weekend box office, coming in at #2, grossing $22 million. What you might not know is that the soldiers who inspired the movie have a lot of ties to Missouri.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman playing a group of men who are out to protect art and historic pieces from being destroyed by Nazi Germany or lost during battles in Europe during World War II. The group of men chosen for this duty became officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program. Four men in the program were Missouri natives. Ten were later employed in Missouri, including two who became directors of the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.

“The Monuments Men program was created in 1943 to protect art in combat zones or after combat had occurred,” said James van Dyke, associate professor of modern European art in the Department of Art History and Archeology at MU. “Everything that was deemed to have cultural significance, including art, architecture and objets d’art were identified, catalogued and protected. The MFAA protected art not only from the Nazi regime as highlighted in the movie, but from other enemies of the Allied Forces. Russian and Asian forces, and in some cases our allies, also were tempted to loot artwork to seek reparation and retribution. Many of the Americans involved in the MFAA remained in Europe until their mission was complete. Later they returned to the states to become arbiters of culture and fine arts.”

Two other Monuments Men accepted jobs at the University of Missouri, including Lewis Williams, a professor of art, and book and manuscript historian Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, professor emeritus of library science at MU.

“Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt was born in Berlin in 1903 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1929,” van Dyke said. “He accepted a position as curator of rare books at Columbia University, and many of his writings and papers are now housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1946, Lehmann-Haupt began working with the MFAA in Berlin where he was charged with helping to restore the cultural landscape in Germany following the Allied victory. In 1967, after 14 years as a rare book and manuscript dealer, Lehmann-Haupt came to Mizzou where he finished his career at the MU Libraries.”

Van Dyke suggests that in World War II and afterward, all sides including the Allies took great interest in not only raiding art, but also in preserving it, and the Monuments Men took an important role in the process.

This movie has been in the works for about two years and was supposed to come out in December, but got bumped to last week due to post-production work. The Monuments Men may have been second in the weekend box office, but has had mixed reviews.

Regardless, I hope you check the movie out and see how not only how our fine military do various jobs, but also see some of Missouri’s heritage and the importance of preserving history.

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