European sites, art tell tales of Monuments Men

Feb 06 2014, 18:04 IST
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SummaryThe group's mission was to save cultural treasures during World War II.

expert Rose Valland was allowed to stay. But Valland, who unbeknownst to the Nazis spoke German, managed to keep track of where the artworks - most stolen from Jewish families in France - were being sent. She passed that information along to Monuments Man James Rorimer after the liberation of Paris, directing him to Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle. Today, a small plaque on the southwest corner of the Jeu de Paume, located near the Place de la Concorde, recognizes her bravery.

To see a work of art with a history that encapsulates the Nazi looting machine, Edsel says, gaze upon Jan Vermeer's painting ''The Astronomer'' at the Louvre. ''If we could take it off the wall it would have a Nazi inventory code on the back,'' he said.

''That one picture is stolen from the Rothschilds, goes to the Jeu de Paume. It's selected for (Adolf) Hitler's museum. ... It ends up in the salt mine at Altaussee, found by the Monuments officers, returned with all these other things to France, returned to the Rothschilds, donated to the Louvre,'' he said.

GERMANY'S FAIRYTALE CASTLE, CEILING FRESCO BY A MASTER

Visitors flock to tour ''Mad'' King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein Castle, nestled in Germany's soaring Bavarian Alps with dramatic turrets rising into the sky. But during the war, the castle was the Nazi's hideaway for about 21,000 items stolen from French collectors and records of the looting.

Monuments Man John Davis Skilton arrived in the German town of Wurzburg in hopes of saving the Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's ceiling fresco ''Allegory of the Planets and Continents.'' The fresco in the Residenz palace dating back to the 1750s was in peril: The roof above the fresco ceiling burned off during Allied bombings, leaving it exposed to the elements.

Edsel said Skilton set to figuring out how to get a roof built over the fresco as soon as possible. ''He sees how precarious it is, so he finds lumber, which was no easy feat,'' said Edsel.

''When you go walk through the palace Residenz, in the last room that you're in, there's a small shrine to John Skilton,'' he said.

FLORENCE'S BRIDGES, PISA'S CAMPOSANTO

In Italy, Florence's bridges today offer a look at cultural treasures that didn't survive the war. Except for the Ponte Vecchio - the city's famous covered bridge - other bridges over the Arno were destroyed by the Nazis as they made their retreat out of

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