Adolf Hitler presents Hermann Goering with a birthday gift, Berlin, Germany, 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, DCAdolf Hitler presents Hermann Goering with a birthday gift, Berlin, Germany, 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC

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Multimedia lecture recounts Allied officers’ work to save artistic treasures

On Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Mary Stuart Rogers Music Center, Robert Edsel will deliver a multi-media lecture on the work of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Allied armies and its officers during and after World War II. Admission is free, and Edsel will sign copies of his books after the lecture.

Edsel is director of the Monuments Men Foundation and award-winning author and producer. His lecture, "Is Art Worth a Life? Hitler, War, and the Monuments Men," traces the work of MFAA officers, a group of men and women from 13 nations who helped rescue Europe's artistic and cultural treasures from the Nazis.

After Germany's surrender, the Allies began to discover art treasures hidden in castles and salt mines in Germany and Austria. While the Allies sought to return these stolen treasures to their rightful owners, the Russian army viewed them as spoils of war. Allies and Russians raced to find and secure the stolen works. By 1951, when the MFAA was decommissioned, officers had discovered and repatriated five million artworks. 

Many of these officers would go on to become cultural leaders in post-World War II America, including James Rorimer, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and S. Lane Faison, Jr., director of the Williams College Museum of Art, among others. One of these Monuments officers was a young sculptor and art historian from Michigan, Mark Sponenburgh, who would go on to enjoy a successful career as an art educator in Oregon. In 1990, Sponenburgh donated his art collection to Willamette University and set the stage for the creation of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in 1998.

Robert Edsel is a former Texas oilman who has devoted the past decade to gaining recognition for MFAA officers and their important work. He is the author of two books, Rescuing Da Vinci and The Monuments Men. He was also co-producer of The Rape of Europa, a documentary to be shown at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, and he published Beyond the Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection, by Nancy H. Yeide. Edsel received the President's Call to Service Award in 2008.

Financial support for Edsel's lecture has been provided by the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, the Sixteenth Annual Speakers Series of the College of Law, the College of Liberal Arts Office of the Dean, the Center for Ancient Studies and Archaeology, and the Hogue-Sponenburgh Lectureship Fund of the Department of Art History at Willamette University. Additional support has been provided by the City of Salem's Transient Occupancy Tax funds and the Oregon Arts Commission.