Robert Edsel tells the untold story of the Monuments Men at KSU Stark


Best-selling author Robert Edsel speaks at a press conference prior to his presentation at Kent State-Stark, Monday evening, April 7, 2014. Edsel spoke about the process of translating his book, “The Monument Men” into a film.

Julia Adkins

The best part of a story is hearing one that you have never heard of before.

Robert Edsel presented a story such as that to a large audience Monday night at Kent State Stark inside The University Center.

Edsel, author of “Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” and founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation was the final speaker for Kent State Stark’s Featured Speakers Series for the 2013-2014 season.  

Edsel partakes in tours and presentations across the globe, similar to the one he gave Monday in hopes to pass along the message and the untold story of the Monuments Men.

He started off his presentation acknowledging that many people today know about World War II — that it was a horrific war from 1939 to 1945 in which many lives were lost in order to regain the freedom of people and the land that Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany took over.  

What many people don’t know is that during this war, Edsel said many artifacts were stolen, sold in forced sales and hidden from the rest of the world by many different people, mostly Hitler and the Nazis.  

At some point, Edsel said, many of these cultural objects and artifacts had made their way back to their rightful countries and museums.  But while spending some time in Europe in 2001, Edsel said he realized that no one ever knew how this happened, how those pieces of art and history made their way back to where they belonged.  

After dedicating many years to find out what happened to these pieces of history, Edsel wrote and self published his first book, “Rescuing Da Vinci,” which was a detailed historical account featuring 460 photographs of the artwork and other cultural monuments that were rescued by the Monuments Men during the end of World War II.  

He later went on to write “The Monuments Men,” which was the main focus of his presentation.  

Edsel told the story of the unknown group of military men and women who served during the war under efforts and command from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General Dwight D. Eisenhower to recover and save the cultural pieces that were stolen and hidden from the world.  

Edsel told the audience that the importance of being the messenger of this story was because art belongs to the people, to everyone no matter where the art is or where he or she is from.  

“The monuments foundation and my work have received a lot of very nice recognition,” Edsel said.  “But it’s not about me or my work.  It’s about these men and women.  This is not my story; it’s your story.”

In 2012, George Clooney announced that he would write, direct and star in a film version of “The Monuments Men.”  Earlier this year in February, the movie “Monuments Men” was released in theaters with a cast including Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray.  

As Edsel showed a small clip of one of the movie trailers, he mentioned that the cast also knew and understood how important it was to make this history known to those not only in the United States, but to those across the world.  

“It’s a heist movie. It’s a war movie,” Damon said in the trailer.  “Ultimately, it’s a movie about people who are willing to sacrifice everything to save what is the very best of us, of humanity.”

At the end of his presentation, Edsel acknowledged that the purpose of the book, the movie and the foundation is not over now that everyone knows about it.  

“We are in pursuit of making sure these men and women are recognized and that we complete their mission,” Edsel said.

After his presentation, Edsel received a standing ovation from the large crowd.  

Bonnie Paglialunga, of Canton and regular attendee of Kent State Stark’s Featured Speakers Series, attended the event because she had just recently seen the movie, started to read Edsel’s book “Monuments Men” and knew she wanted to have another experience with the story.

“I never thought about it,” Paglialunga said. “It was like why didn’t I think of this? Like what could have happened to all that art work?”

Dominic Paglialunga, her husband, also attended Edsel’s presentation.

“It puts a whole new perspective on our military,” Paglialunga said. “There was some good that came about and, well, people need to hear that.”

Tomasina Elavsky, of Akron, also came to listen to Edsel and said she really enjoyed hearing the untold story.

“Art is something we can’t lose,” Elvasky said.  “We cannot lose it because it just, it is us.  It is part of us.  We need to be surrounded by it and the beauty of it.  We need to remember the mentality of artists and sculptures of hundreds of years ago.”

Edsel’s presentation and recognition of The Monuments Men from World War II was a reminder that there is still history left untold out there, and that we are the ones who can unfold the mystery and pass it along.

Contact Julia Adkins at [email protected].