When I discovered that George Clooney was working on a film version of Robert Edsel's book, The Monuments Men, it was an emotional moment. The fate of the people who made up the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section (MFAA) of the Western Allied armed forces became closely intertwined with that of my parents, who were German art historians.
The first years of my life were spent in the shadow of the monstrous Nazi Party buildings which had just been turned into shelters for countless artworks, many of them masterpieces of European culture. The Munich holding point for looted and displaced art, which existed for a year only, forged unlikely friendships between individuals like my parents from the hitherto warring sides.
The MFAA was set up in June 1943 under the Roosevelt administration to protect monuments during the war. It was the brainchild of Harvard conservator George Stout, whose mission was first to preserve, and then repatriate, stolen and displaced art.
The Munich Central Collecting Point came into being in June 1945, only days after General Eisenhower issued the order from his Versailles HQ. Naval reserve lieutenant Craig Hugh Smyth had the Herculean task of housing the countless works about to arrive in Munich from Nazi-occupied Europe--and to...