The Monuments Men were a group of approximately 350 men and women given the task of saving European cultural pieces during combat in World War II.
The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section (MFAA), was part of a U.S. Army unit consisting of museum directors, curators, artists and art historians from America, Britain and several European nations. The group was formed after a slide show was presented in New York City in December 1941, by Paul Sachs, associate director of the Fogg Museum in Boston. The pictures showed the devastation being caused to European museums, and it was decided that a rescue plan was needed.
The MFAA returned and saved over 5 million items of cultural significance, including cultural sites, monuments and buildings, that were taken by Hitler and his followers between 1942 and 1946.
An exhibition honoring the Monuments Men is being held at the Archives of American Art, part of the Smithsonian Institute. Original papers of the MFAA are on display here. A Hollywood movie, The Monuments Men, was also released on February 7th 2014, starring and directed by George Clooney.
The Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, within the State Department, is now responsible for encouraging ‘restitution of artworks to rightful owners’ from this period of time.