New York
, 11. October 2016
Art and Cultural Protection in Conflict Areas

The Monuments Men

While during that time in World War II, the department "Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section" employed staff to save art property, nowadays belligerents think about, how to protect their artistic and cultural monuments from the terror and the destruction of the Islamic State. They should take a lesson from history.

x-working The ruins of Palmyra once gave evidence for a cosmopolitan city in which nations lived peacefully side by side
The ruins of Palmyra once gave evidence for a cosmopolitan city in which nations lived peacefully side by side

As early as during the First World War, the signatory countries of The Hague Convention supported the preservation and protection of cultural goods. Based on this, during World War II a team of 345 cultural conservationists out of 13 countries teamed up to track down valuable cultural assets and to save them. Overall, the action of the Monuments Men was a total success: They traced more than five million cultural assets and recompensed them. The untypical war heroes in their previous lives mostly were museum curators, art historians, teachers, architects or archivists. They crawled mines, salt goods, castles and churches, because here the treasures were mostly hidden. Moreover, they took care of the reparation of worth protecting valuable buildings and monuments, and persecuted, whereto the collections of European museums, archives and libraries disappeared. After the war, the Monuments Men were mainly busy to track the stolen art that was dragged away by the Nazis, and give it back to museums, churches and private collections.

In 2014, George Clooney made the tribute to the heroes of World War II into a film. However, unfortunately this not very well reviewed film started a wave of memories rolling. For example, after the publication of the film the Smithsonian Institution in Washington presented an exhibition of letters, for cultural preservationists and photos out of their archive. In addition, Clooney himself did not leave it at the release of his film. He also interfered in the current international museum policy. At the film premiere in Berlin he mentioned, that the British Museum in London had to give back the exhibited elements of the Acropolis of Athens, as well as sculptures and jewelery parts of the Parthenon pediment to Greece.

If you look at the current political situation, nowadays IS-fighters repeatedly destroy unique cultural heritages of ancient oriental times, and partly finance themselves with art and culture robbery. It seems advisable to let a fresh Monument Men crew team up to locate these treasures and to protect them.

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