Four Feather staff members attended the first speaker of the 2014 San Joaquin Valley Town Hall lecture series and listened to Robert Edsel author of the novel and now motion picture The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Oct. 15.
Look around and see the different peoples, different cities, different works of art, different thoughts and ideals. Without the preservation of these things, these cultures, entire ways of life could disappear and be forgotten forever.
Edsel stressed the importance of the preservation of cultures through protecting artifacts and works of art during times of war and destruction. He elaborated on what the world would look like without a respect for culture.
“We’re talking about the cradle of civilization type of stuff,” Edsel said. “Roman columns that are 2,000 years old, and you can see what they look like standing in the middle of a dessert, where half of them are knocked over by Syrian tanks, being driven through like a go-kart track.”
Edsel was born on Dec. 28, 1958, in Oak Park, Illinois, and was raised in Dallas, Texas. In 1981 he founded Gemini Exploration, his company became one of the pioneers in horizontal oil drilling techniques.
In 1990 Edsel, while living in Florence, Italy, began to study the town’s architecture and artwork with local art professors.
He began to wonder, how could all of these historical works of art have survived the most destructive war in modern time? What were the tactics used to protect art pieces from Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich?
In 2000 Edsel moved to New York City after his divorce to understand the problem. His journey to gather information on the issue became a full-time career.
“I had a successful business and I sold it in 1996,” Edsel said. “I then moved to Florence; I had never taken an art history course or any courses on how to write a book. Essentially Europe was my school and Florence was my classroom.”
As he began to look deeper into the United States history in World War II, Edsel came across a group of men and women that intrigued him. They were called, The Monuments Men, and they worked to recover works of art that were stripped from the clutches of their homeland.
During the rise of Hitler’s regime, plans were drawn up for a grand new museum dedicated to the dictator’s honor. To fill the massive museum, planned to be built in Linz, Austria, the hometown of the Fuhrer, with countless works of art the Nazi’s stole from various countries across Europe.
Millions of masterpieces from such artists as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti were taken and stowed away in compounds all across Germany, Edsel’s other novel Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis deals with strictly Italian art recovery. One of the most famous caches of art found by the Monuments Men was the Merkers salt mine which gave refuge to thousands of pieces of art.
Edsel set out to make known the valiant efforts put forward by this heroic group, made up of various museum coordinators and janitors. The average age was 40 years old, much higher than the general infantry age.
The men and women of this group were not drafted, they did not have to leave their families and friends but they did so that the rest of the world could appreciate great artwork for generations to come.
Edsel emphasized that these men protected the cultures of numerous civilizations, and forewarned us that some people will have to defend all cultures from others that will go out of their way to annihilate entire ways of life.
“Bad guys start with trying to destroy the valuable and important things you have,” Edsel said. “Take the Nazi’s for example, they didn’t just try to kill the Jews. They started by taking the things important to them, then they started imprisoning them, then they started killing them. But that’s how the cycle starts, by destroying the culture.”
Edsel elaborated further on the system of dehumanizing acts and mentioned a way to preserve the cultures of other people.
“You see killing someone isn’t enough for the bad guys in history,” Edsel said. “What they want is to humiliate their victims, to leave them with nothing. And the way that system starts is by taking the cultural possessions, so if we can stop it there we can at least preserve the values of the people. We can protect the culture, we can protect that way of life.”
Look around and see, look at the different cultures and peoples and see the diversity and beauty they bring to the table. If no one stands up to defend them, entire civilizations could be wiped off the face of the planet, and that’s an indignity no one should suffer.
Consider learning to appreciate the different people and ideas. Without them this world could become dull and less vibrant, stand up against tyranny and holocausts, stand up against people trying to eradicate other groups of people. Defend the defenseless, safeguard their treasures for them, respect their cultures. These are values all can appreciate and should uphold.
Kevin Garcha, writer, also contributed to this article.
Edsel will speak next at the Mississippi University of Women Welty Gala, Oct. 24. For more information on Edsel, be sure to read Exclusive: Robert M. Edsel, Bob Balaban and cast talk ‘Monuments Men’.
Those who wish to attend the November San Joaquin Valley Town Hall lectures should refer to their website for ticket and biography information. These include Billy Bean at The Tower Theatre on Nov. 4 and Jerry Greenfield at the Saroyan Theatre on Nov. 12.
These writers can be reached via Twitter: @2015Beal, @RRoggenstein and @namoodnhoj.
For more Feather features, read the Oct. 14 article, Drought continues, relief in progress.