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February 8, 2014

My review of The Monuments Men (George Clooney’s new movie)

Filed under: Germany, movies — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 9:52 am

Yesterday, I went to the first showing, on the first day that the new movie, entitled The Monuments Men, opened in my city.

The Monuments Men is not a movie for young people, who will have a hard time understanding it.  The movie is fiction, loosely based on the true story of what happened in Europe during World War II.

In my humble opinion, this movie will not be in theaters very long, so if you want to see it, you had better hurry.

The main problem is that the movie is based on a 534 page book, written  by Robert M. Edsel, and published in 2009. Edsel’s book is based on a 444 page book written by Ms. Lynn H. Nicholas, entitled The Rape of Europa, which was first published in 1995.  In this real-life story, there were 400 Monuments Men. It was impossible to compress all this information into a 2-hour movie.  The bits and pieces of the story, that are shown in the movie, are impossible to understand, unless you have read both of the books.

This morning, I was very surprised to hear George Clooney say, in a TV interview, that he had read Edsel’s book before making this movie. In the interview, Clooney said that Hitler had stolen all the art in Europe and that he was intent upon destroying it.

How much of Edsel’s book did George actually read?  On page 17, you can read about how Hitler was planning an art Museum in his home town of Linz, Austria.

The main character in the movie (played by George Clooney) is named Frank Stokes.  This character is based on the real life Professor George L. Stout, a Harvard art historian who headed the MFAA group (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives) that went to Europe in 1944, after the Normandy invasion, to save the art that Hitler was planning to destroy, according  to the movie plot.

The man on the far left is the real-life George Stout

The tall man on the far left is the real-life George L. Stout

The most important piece of art, that the Monuments Men were intent upon saving, was the Ghent Alterpiece.  The movie opens with a picture of the Ghent Alterpiece on the screen, as we hear what sounds like gunshots.  Are the Nazis shooting  at the Ghent Alterpiece for fun?  No, what we hear is the sound of the nails being hammered into the boxes in which the Ghent Alterpiece will be transported to a safe place by the Americans who have stolen it from the Germans.

The Ghent Altarpiece had been stored, by the Germans, in the Altaussee salt mine in Austria, which was in the territory that had been promised to the Soviet Union, as their zone of occupation, after the war.  Russian soldiers are shown in the movie as they watch the Americans gleefully cart off the art treasures found in the Altaussee salt mine.  The movie doesn’t tell you that the Americans are stealing the art treasures from the Russians.

The movie tells you that The Monuments Men saved the Ghent Altarpiece, the most important piece of art, from the Germans who were planning to destroy it.  The real story is that Hitler was planning to create a museum in Linz, Austria where the art of Europe would be displayed, including the Ghent Altarpiece.

Balcony on city hall in Linz Austria

Balcony on the city hall in Linz Austria

The tiny balcony, in front of the Rathaus in Linz, is where Hitler proclaimed the Greater German Reich (Großdeutsches Reich) after the Anschluss with Austria on May 12, 1938. Hitler was planning a great museum in Linz after the war. He was not planning to destroy the Ghent Altarpiece, as implied in the movie, The Monuments Men.

So where had the Ghent Altarpiece been stored by the Nazis?  It was stored in the Altausee salt mine in Austria.  Don’t  worry, the movie will finally get to the Altaussee salt mine near the end.  The movie is so disjointed that it is almost impossible for anyone to understand it.

Workers at the Altausee salt mine where the Ghent Alterpiece was stored

Workers at the Altaussee salt mine where the Ghent Altarpiece was stored

This quote was copied from a recent news article in the British newspaper, the Daily Mail:

A new book published this week in Austria details how the finest art treasures in the world looted by the Nazis – worth an estimated £5billion at today’s prices – were saved from destruction by a team of salt miners.

Although credit for their salvation has gone to the ‘Monuments Men’ of the Allies who took charge of the masterpieces following the collapse of the Third Reich, the real heroes were apparently a group of Austrian workers who refused to obey orders for their destruction.

George Clooney’s movie ‘The Monuments Men’ which opens on new year’s day only gives a sanitised Hollywood version of what took place in the dying days of the Second World War, one in which the Americans claim the glory for rescuing history’s glittering prizes.

The new book ‘Mission Michelangelo’ tells the real story.

Written by Viennese journalist Konrad Kramar, it reveals how the miners were aided in their efforts to save the artworks by one of the most feared men in the whole of Nazi Germany.

He was Ernst Kaltenbrunner, an Austrian by birth who would be hanged by the Allies at Nuremberg for war crimes.

As head of the SD, the security service of the SS, he was second only to Heinrich Himmler in overseeing the Nazi network of terror, repression and murder in all conquered territories.
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I wrote about Kaltenbrunner in this previous blog post:

This quote is from the book, entitled The Rape of Europa:

By the summer of 1943 an Austrian official, Dr. Herbert Seiberl, had completed an investigation of the labyrinthine network of salt  mines in the Salzkammergut, a chic summer resort area high in the mountains of Salzberg. [..] The most suitable was at Alt Aussee where the main chambers lay more than a mile inside the mountain, reachable only by tiny special trains. Siberl’s belief that the conditions would be ideal was supported by his discovery of a little chapel inside the mine in which oil paintings had been hanging since 1933 without ill effect. [..]

Sieberl was thinking of this place not for the Linz holdings, but for the Austrian collections, now for the first time within range of Allied bombers coming from Italy. […this mine] was immediately claimed for the exclusive use of the Further. […] The arrangement met with Hitler’s approval. […]

In quite another mood, in August 1944 Hitler had ordered  all military installations, utilities, communications, archives, monuments, food stores, and transportation facilities destroyed as the German armies retreated so that only a wasteland would await the Allies. […] Albert Speer, who had proposed a more realistic program, was removed from office for a time, but eventually managed to compromise with the Fuhrer and change the order for destruction to “disabling” all the while working under Hitler’s orders.

In addition to the scorched-earth order, on every front soldiers and Gauleiters were commanded to fight to the last or face execution, Hitler’s theory being, as Wolff had found out in Italy, that if they held out long enough, the Western Allies would join Germany to defeat Bolshevism. In this scenario Germany would remain intact, and the purloined treasures would be used. They must, therefore, be kept from the enemy as long as possible.  Indeed, in his will, written the day before his suicide, Hitler stipulated that his collections should be given to the [German] nation.  […]

Gauleiter [August] Eigruber of Oberdonau had taken Hitler’s scorched earth decrees deeply to heart and was persuaded that the works of art at Alt Aussee should not fall into the hands of the Boshevists or “International Jewry.”   […]

The story of Eigruber’s fanatic desire for destruction, and the efforts to stop him, has become the legend of Alt Aussee.  […]

In the movie, the Merkers mine, where Germany’s gold was stored, is shown.  The Merkers mine was very close to the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald, but this is not mentioned in the movie.  The Merkers mine was also in the occupation zone of the Soviet Union, and the gold in the mine belonged to the Russians as their “spoils of war.”

The photo below, which shows General Eisenhower inside the Merkers mine, is shown very briefly in  the movie.  Don’t blink, or you will miss it.

General Eisenhower inspects the art stored in the Merkers salt mine

General Eisenhower inspects the art stored in the Merkers salt mine

One of the Monuments Men, in the movie, is Harry Ettlinger, who is portrayed by English actor Dimitri Leonidas; his character is named Sam Epstein in the movie.  You can read more about him at

Harry Ettlinger was one of the Mountain Men

19-year-old Harry Ettlinger, on the right, was one of the Monuments Men

In the movie, there is a scene where a burned Picasso painting is briefly shown, along with a large amount of gold teeth, taken from the Jews during the Holocaust.  The burned Picasso is a reference to the “degenerate art” that Hitler destroyed, although this is not explained in the movie.

One of the scenes in the movie, which has been highly praised in the movie reviews that I have read, shows George Stout (played by George Clooney) interrogating a German Army officer. This scene does not make any sense, and I believe that the scene is pure fiction. The German Army officer tells George Stout that he should thank him for what the Germans did in the concentration camps. He also mentions that he has rights under the Geneva Convention.

In the movie scene, George Stout asks the German Army officer: “Why did you blow up the salt mine?”  He doesn’t say which salt mine, but this scene comes shortly after the Americans have found the Altaussee mine.

There is no explanation for this scene, so we are supposed to believe that the Altaussee mine was blown up by the Nazis, and this low-level German officer was the man who ordered the mine to be blown up.

Here is what actually happened, according to the book The Rape of Europa:

“On May 5 [1945] the [Altaussee] mine entrances were blasted shut.  Inside, the scattered masterpieces rested safely in darkness.”

What actually happened is that the workers at the salt mine saved the contents of the mine.  There was four million dollars worth of Germany’s gold in the Altausee mine, which had been removed before the Americans got there.

On page 316 of the book entitled The Rape of Europa, you can read this quote:

… Hitler had ordered [Altaussee] and other repositories sealed and the works of art  preserved at all costs…

That is why the openings into the Altaussee mine were blasted shut.  It was Hitler who made sure that the artwork was saved.