LaFarge had landed on the shores of Normandy with British Second Army. He was an architecture expert from New York. Captain Ralph Hammett, another architecture expert, and Second Lieutenant James Rorimer, a New York Metropolitan museum curator, were assigned to the Army Affairs in the Communications Zone. They had hitched a ride to this meeting from Communications Zone headquarters. These men were three of the 11-man Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives team to arrive on the European continent. Their task was to try to save, salvage and protect the important cultural heritage of Europe during World War II.
While the “Monument’s Men” were free to go where they needed to go, they were not given transportation, radios, equipment or authority. They also didn’t have any enlisted men to help them either. Eleven men were tasked with protecting thousand-year-old buildings in war-torn countries, finding and securing millions of dollars worth of artwork looted under the Fuhrer’s orders, while navigating tens of thousands of miles of countryside with moving battle lines without transportation.
Monumental could be used to describe the size of their task as well as what they were trying to protect.
These three men had come to Saint-Lo, France for the first meeting of the Monuments Men on the battle field. They were expecting a fourth member, and hoped this was him. It was a top-less, Volkswagen car, with no windshield. The driver had on a metal helmet, a navy-issued jacket and goggles like the ones used by fighter pilots in World War I. His name was George Stout. He was the unflappable, pragmatic leader, though not by any title or recognized hierarchy.
These men knew the task was so huge, managers weren’t needed, only willing hands.
There problems were many, but this was no pity party. They needed to identify solutions and move. They needed more “Off Limits” signs, which were used to keep civilians and soldiers alike out of the treasured, yet often damaged building they wanted to preserve. Rorimer volunteered to have some printed. In the mean time, or if need arose again, Stout suggested they use white engineer tape and spell out “Danger: Mines!” to keep people out of precious buildings.
They needed more man power. They agreed that using civilians to hang signs and find local resources would be best. This would also improve relations with the citizens rather than seem like another take over by foreign power.
They discussed ways to communicate, without dedicated communication lines, assistants to help with filing paper work, and transportation. Stout was going to meet with US army duty officials three days later and he would request more permanent solutions, but for now they would make do and move forward.
Move forward they did. Each man accompanied various army units as they moved forward in the war. They would find, catalog and protect, as best they could, all the priceless buildings, art works, and artifacts they could locate.
Rorimer would befriend a French woman who had spied on the Germans during the four years of occupation in Paris. She worked at the Louvre and had stealthily acquired important information about a cache of artwork, but she wouldn’t hand the information over to just anyone. She needed to know she could trust him, and that the information would be used appropriately. He found a huge collection of valuables stashed in the beautiful castle at Neuschwanstein. (The inspiration for the Disney castle.)
Another Monument Man, Robert Posey, another architect from Alabama, had been assigned to Third Army under General Patton. After getting injured during the Battle of the Bulge, Posey searched for clues for hidden art collections stolen during German occupation in France, Italy and other countries. They discovered Hitler’s personal collection of masterpieces were located in a salt mine at Altaussee.
And George Stout had helped discover more than 40 tons of artwork in the Merker’s mine. He helped catalogue it and prepare the artwork to be returned to rightful owners. (The mine also held Germany’s gold and paper reserves, worth about $5 billion in today’s value)
Due to the efforts of the Monuments Men and many other soldiers and citizens, the world still has many of the great masterpieces and cultural treasures, such as: DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s Bruges Modonna, The Ghent Altarpiece, Rembrandt’s self-portrait, and thousands more.
No one man or woman could have achieved all that the Monument’s men were able to achieve. It took a team effort. It’s interesting as I read about these men in Robert Edsel’s book “Monuments Men” (and I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t recommend or criticize it.) how they each have separate skills and personalities that help them achieve their separate contributions. Divine intervention played a part in their success for sure, but God also played a part in putting them in the right position with the right people.
He will do the same for you.
Maybe God has put someone in your path that will compliment your skills and abilities in just the right way. Maybe you are already working with someone who will help you reach your common goal. No one person can make up for the collective ability of a team that is focused on the same goal.