Dig into tales of unlikely treasure hunters, at the Abilene library

·3 min read

In a recent episode of "Expedition Unknown," the very enthusiastic host, Josh Gates, undertook a quest in search of stolen treasure. Unlike previous episodes, it had nothing to do with pirates, outlaws or thieves. Instead, the journey took him to Poland to hunt for works of art stolen by the Nazis during WWII.

Along the way he interviewed Robert M. Edsel. If the name sounds familiar, you have probably seen the George Clooney film and, hopefully, read the book “The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History: The Story of the Monuments Men.”

The Monuments Men (aka Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section) were a group of 345 men and women, from 13 nations, made up of museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, educators and, yes, librarians.

They possessed the expertise or training needed to identify works of art as well as care for them until returned. A truly “monumental” task given that experts estimate that the Nazis stole 20% of the art in Europe.

Among the stolen items were "Lady with an Ermine" by Leonardo da Vinci and the sculpture "Madonna of Bruges" by Michelangelo. Both were recovered.

In “Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis,” Edsel sheds light on artist Deane Keller and scholar Fred Hartt. They tracked missing art worth billions by such artists as Botticelli, Caravaggio, Donatello, Michelangelo and Titian.

In “The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures,” Simon Goodman recounts his 20-year long quest to reclaim the treasure stolen from his grandparents, the Gutmanns (later anglicized to Goodman), by the Nazi looting machine. He traced works across two continents as well as recovered works by artists such as Botticelli, Degas and Renoir by successfully proving his family rightfully owned them.

In November 2003, more 1,400 artworks worth a combined $1.35 billion were discovered in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt. He was the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of the most prolific looters of the Third Reich, stealing from Jews, museums and Hitler himself. Susan Ronald explores this tale in “Hitler’s Art Thief: Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Nazis and the Looting of Europe’s Treasure.”

Among the first treasures stolen by the Nazis were the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. Walter Horn, U.S. Army first lieutenant and art historian, located the missing crown, orb, scepter and swords through research and amateur detective work.

Sidney D. Kirkpatrick explores his story in “Hitler’s Holy Relics: A True Story of Nazi Plunder and the Race to Recover the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire.”

Learn more about these amazing, but ordinary, men and women who channeled their inner Indiana Jones to recover precious art, often at great risk. Because of their efforts, generations of art lovers will be able to enjoy rare and irreplaceable works of art despite the best efforts of the Nazi looting machine.

Books on these, and related topics, are available at your Abilene Public Library. Visit us, or abilenetx.gov/apl, to begin your own hunt for treasure.

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Dig into tales of treasure hunters of artwork stolen by the Nazis