Robert Edsel's Blog

Archive for November, 2008

HELP US WRITE THE FINAL CHAPTER TO WORLD WAR II

November 25th, 2008 | 10:51 am

For all those new to my blog, welcome!!! I write regularly about our ongoing research on the Monuments Men, stories about developments in the world of restitutions, and our effort to complete the mission of the Monuments Men by locating and returning some of the still missing hundreds or thousands of works of art and millions of documents stolen by the Nazis. Just last year we located the “Hitler Albums” (for more details, please visit The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art website at www.monumentsmen.org), two albums of photographs which were in Hitler’s possession in his home at Berchtesgaden when Western Allied Forces arrived in mid-May, 1945. The photographs documented works of art stolen by Hitler and the Nazis from French collections during their occupation of France. Hitler and Goering would often flip through these albums and 39 other such albums admitted into evidence at the Nuremburg trials much as someone today might shop from a catalogue. Other such albums exist, of that we can be sure. But where are they? Who has them?

Books stolen from thousands of libraries remain missing; drawings, paintings, and sculpture in the hundreds of thousands are still being searched for worldwide, all examples of the legacy of Hitler and the Nazis. The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art is the only organization motivated to finish the work of the Monuments Men by illuminating the path home for these missing items. As a not-for-profit IRS approved 501 (c) (3) organization, it by definition has no financial interest, rather it hopes to continue the work it began last year. In fact, The Monuments Men Foundation was the 2007 recipient of the National Humanities Medal for its role in rescuing the story of the Monuments Men and its work preserving their legacy.

Perhaps you have or know of some work of art, book or document that was “liberated” during World War II? Perhaps you have information about one of the Monuments Men or have photographs related to their amazing work which you would like to share with us? Maybe you would like to provide financial help to the Monuments Men Foundation and become part of a growing number of people who believe that the leadership role of the Monuments Men in the protection of cultural property during wartime is a rich legacy we should preserve. After all, we need look no further than the disastrous consequences of the aftermath of the looting of the Iraq National Museum to see the danger to our nation and its world standing to appreciate the importance of this matter and the inherent responsibility we as a nation have during such conflicts. Possibly you just want to learn more about the Monuments Men and how they established the standard for protection of cultural property during World War II.

Whatever the reason, we invite all those interested in learning how you can help to visit The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art website. All inquiries will be kept confidential if requested.

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TEACHERS, STUDENTS, AND PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL: WELCOME!

November 24th, 2008 | 3:01 pm

Tonight PBS will broadcast to the nation our documentary film, The Rape of Europa. This wonderful film will be seen by millions of people unfamiliar with the subject of Hitler and the Nazis’ premeditated looting of Europe and their use of art as a weapon of propaganda to promote their racial theories. Making any film is a challenge. Making a great film, one good enough that PBS would allocate such a prominent slot for its airing during “sweeps” week, is a rare achievement which speaks to the importance of the subject matter. While this is a significant milestone, it is only the first of several that will follow.

We are very excited about providing that PBS audience, and of course people everywhere, the opportunity to learn more about this important story…about the heroes who saved so much of the art, the Monuments Men…about the behind the scenes stories we filmed…about the lessons learned, and those that were ignored…about how the events of World War II should have prepared us for the events that unfolded after the looting of the Iraq National Museum in 2003. These stories couldn’t be told in just two hours and for that reason, and for that reason we created The Rape of Europa Collector’s Edition which contains almost 7 additional hours of interviews, archival footage, and in-depth analysis of key events that were only briefly covered in the two hour film. One example of this extended content is our interview with Corine Wegener, a retired Army major who served in Iraq working to repair the damage to not only their national museum, but our country’s image. This unique DVD is only available on Amazon and is being offered at a special introductory price for a limited time. You can link to order that DVD by clicking on http://www.rapeofeuropa.com.

Of far greater importance is our educational program which is named The Greatest Theft in History Educational Program! This Educational Program is innovative and comprehensive providing a resource not currently available to educators and students. It provides on-line lesson plans customized for classroom instruction by our nationally acclaimed group of educators under the supervision of our Educational Advisory Board members. (To see the names of our team of educators and Educational Advisory Board and their CV’s, please click on the following links: http://www.greatesttheft.com/advisoryboard and http://www.greatesttheft.com/writingteam). This program will enable teachers to concentrate their time on teaching, not on looking for materials to teach. By making clips from our Educational DVD and other material we will be continually adding to the website along with other unique features, we have constructed a “one-stop does all” destination for anyone interested in learning more about the protection of cultural resources during armed conflict, the events of World War II and how critical a factor art was to Hitler and the Nazis’ plans, and of course the heroes of the story, the Monuments Men. Our hours of extended interviews and other materials will allow students and interested parties of all ages to participate in the writing of this final chapter to World War II. The students of today will be the ones assisting us in solving the remaining riddles and mysteries of this amazing chapter of the war including developing clues as to the whereabouts of so much of the still missing art and other cultural treasures stolen during the war.

We have constructed this Educational Program with affordability in mind by pricing the entire program at $35/ program which includes the almost 9 hour Educational DVD and access to the custom designed website which contains lesson plans and other teaching resources making it accessible for people of all ages and interests. Already the responses from teachers and other organizations has been gratifying and rewarding…but it is just the beginning.

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A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE

November 23rd, 2008 | 12:18 pm

Today marks the launch of our new website, The Greatest Theft in History Educational Program (www.greatesttheft.com). Building this site and getting it operational was a monumental task for several reasons no one could possibly have foreseen. Obstacle after obstacle was tossed before us by others: still, we have prevailed. A long held dream, now 12 years in the making, of seeing the remarkable legacy of the Monuments Men — and so many others of the "greatest generation" — put to its highest and best use, has now become a reality. The first and most difficult step has been taken. Our new website, constructed by teachers, for teachers and students of all ages, provides a new and distinct way for the lessons of World War II to be taught focusing on the theft of not only lives, but of property, culture, art. We have only just begun to introduce to the public the vast storehouse of material we have assembled while enlisting their help in writing this fascinating and critically important final chapter to World War II. Much work lies ahead, but I am confident that our team will demonstrate and prove once again that shared commitment for a higher cause yields a power that no commercial enterprise can match.

Great achievements are possible because of the dedicated commitment and sacrifice of others, in our case a very small group of individuals who worked together, tirelessly and unselfishly, to make my vision a reality. Our Greatest Theft Educational Program nearly 9 hour DVD will be available in a week or so exclusively at www.greatesttheft.com. We are proud of the distinguished group who served on our Educational Advisory Board, our team of nationally recognized Educators, and all those in our Dallas office who have given so generously of themselves to create the most excellent product on a nearly impossible deadline. I’ve never been more proud of any team in my long career. Special thanks go to our Stratosphere team who have worked without stop to complete the job of others in superb fashion. It is one of the finest examples of professionalism I have ever had the pleasure to witness. And of course, our many supporters, none more important or deliberate in expressing their support than the National Endowment for the Humanities, have been instrumental in us realizing this goal.

Much more information will be made available in the days and weeks ahead. We look forward to sharing with you some very big announcements. Stay tuned.

As I think back over the many battles that have been waged to make this material available to the public, via our new educational website and the accompanying DVD, I reflect on how often the words of the great General Eisenhower, delivered on June 12, 1945, comforted me. It was on that date that the General was honored by the City of London for the skilled leadership he provided in leading the Western Allied Forces to their defeat of HItler and the Nazis. General Eisenhower’s remarks, prepared by him without edit from others, demonstrated once again his fundamental decency and magnanimity towards others. In receiving this honor, General Eisenhower said the following (excerpted remarks):

"The high sense of distinction I feel in receiving this great honor is inescapably mingled with feelings of profound sorrow. Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of followers and the sacrifices of his friends. He may have given everything of his heart and mind to meet the spiritual and physical needs of his comrades. He may have written a chapter that will glow forever in the pages of military history. Still, such a man–if he existed–would sadly have to face the facts that his honors cannot hide in the memories crosses marking the resting places of the dead. They cannot soothe the anguish of the widow or orphan whose husband or father will not return. The only attitude in which a commander may, with satisfaction, receive the tributes of his friends is in the humble acknowledgement that no matter how unworthy he may be, his position is the symbol of great human forces that have labored, arduously and successfully, for a righteous cause."

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A NATIONAL HERO: DR. BRUCE COLE

November 14th, 2008 | 6:56 pm

Our nation has been so fortunate to have had the steady leadership of Dr. Bruce Cole as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities for almost 8 years making him the most longstanding chairman in the Endowment’s history! Normally the departure of such a great and inspirational leader would be a loss to our nation. Certainly, Dr. Cole’s successor will have some big shoes to fill. But at the same time, Dr. Cole built a core team of professionals, many of whom will remain behind to ably continue executing the many initiatives he developed, such as Picturing America. Change is good; hopefully a new leader appointed by the incoming administration of President-elect Obama will be just as favorable for the Endowment. Now, however, we can only admire the many amazing accomplishments of the outgoing chairman, Bruce Cole. Consider the following:

Appointed NEH Chairman by President George W. Bush, Cole was confirmed by the Senate in 2001, and reconfirmed in 2005 for a second term. Cole is the longest serving Chairman in the history of the Endowment. During his tenure, NEH launched innovative humanities programs, including We the People and Picturing America. Under his leadership, NEH led the application of digital technology to the humanities through its Office of Digital Humanities. The office established innovative new grant programs and formed ground-breaking partnerships with the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. Cole has also worked to broaden the international reach of NEH.

“For the past seven years, I had the honor of working with the talented staff at NEH, our National Council on the Humanities, and the state humanities councils to preserve and promote the best of the humanities,” said Cole. “Programs such as We the People and Picturing America bring humanities education to the forefront and increase understanding of our unique history among our citizens. I depart as a grateful American, with profound appreciation for NEH’s commitment to the critical importance of the humanities. I look forward to continuing to promote the understanding of American history in my new endeavor.”

As NEH Chairman, Cole’s highest priority has been to reinvigorate our citizens’ knowledge of American history. At NEH, he approved more than 3,000 grants and $292.7 million dollars in funding for projects about U.S. history and culture, and was responsible for $759 million dollars in overall grant funding during his tenure. The Endowment’s budget also increased during this period.

In 2002, Cole established We the People, a program to improve the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture. Notable We the People projects include Landmarks of American History and Culture workshops for school and community college teachers offered at important American historic sites, as well as the We the People Bookshelf, which annually distributes classic books that explore enduring American themes to thousands of libraries.

One of Cole’s major initiatives at NEH has been Picturing America. Designed to help students understand America’s national story through art, Picturing America brings great American art into classrooms and libraries nationwide, enabling people of all ages to gain a deeper appreciation of our country’s history and character. Through Picturing America, schools and public libraries receive forty large, high-quality reproductions of American art, along with resources to help educators use the images to teach American history, literature, civics, and other subjects.

During the first Picturing America application period in 2008, nearly one-fifth of all U.S. schools and public libraries applied for the program. This fall, working with the American Library Association, NEH made more than 36,000 Picturing America awards to schools, public libraries and Head Start Centers nationwide, and expects to award thousands more by the end of the year. As part of the Picturing America initiative, NEH formed partnerships with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, and the National Park Service.

What makes this news so happy in a way was the simultaneous announcement that Dr. Cole was joining the American Revolutionary Center at Valley Forge as its president and Chief Executive Officer in January, 2009. As unbelievable as it may seem, our nation does NOT have a center dedicated to the study of the American Revolution! It seems impossible to believe that for all the monuments and educational centers we do have, something as important and formative as the events that lead to the founding of our nation and the lasting principles of democracy upon which it was founded, are not permanently recognized for people of this nation and those abroad to enjoy. Bruce Cole has many skills but none greater than a keen awareness of history and how to make it come alive for people of all ages. This is a signature skill of his that has been demonstrated in every project he has undertaken. Congratulations to Dr. Cole and the leadership of the American Revolutionary Center. And to Dr. Cole, my team says a special word of thanks for the tremendous support our work has received from the National Endowment for the Humanities team.

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HONOR OUR VETERANS!

November 11th, 2008 | 4:40 pm

Today is THE day to fly your flag, to display your appreciation for the sacrifice of so many millions of Americans who have had their lives changed, and in too many instances, lost, in service to our nation.

Brave men and women have given years of their lives to ensure that we enjoy the freedoms which define the society in which we live. Expressing our “thanks” may seem like a small gesture by comparison, but I can attest to the fact that an appreciative gesture of any sort is always well-received. Oftentimes I see people in airports walk up to men and women in uniform, returning home or on leave, to say “thanks for your service to our nation”. The soldiers may appear shy, or just say “thanks” in return, but I promise you, they are welling up with pride inside. My mom took my son and niece with two weeks ago to shop for some “goodies” to ship overseas to our soldiers in Iraq. One of our Monuments Men, Harry Ettlinger, regularly goes to the airport near his home town to greet returning vets, one veteran to another. I’ve seen people give up their seats in the front of airplanes to allow a serviceman or woman to sit in a better seat. There are countless other ways to “do something” to express your appreciation to these great soldiers, all of which will leave you feeling better and will be immeasurably well-received by our heroes.

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HOPE FOR HUMANITY AWARD

November 10th, 2008 | 7:45 pm

(Robert Edsel receives the shofar)

The Dallas Holocaust Museum and Center for Education and Tolerance hosted a beautiful dinner last evening in my honor, a touching event attended by more than 650 people. A number of survivors were in attendance on what was an even more special day of somber celebration the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Co-chairs Ynette Hogue and Helen Risch organized a fantastic event much enjoyed by all. Honorary chairs Deedie Rose and Gail Sachson were generous in their remarks followed by the presentation to me of a shofar, a ram’s horn blown at important events such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur among others. The shofar signifies a special way of calling, a way of bringing attention to an important message. What an honor it was then, to receive this magnificent gift in front of so many caring and supportive people.

(Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger)

Words fail to express my appreciation to Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger, who traveled all this way to introduce me to the audience. Harry’s warmth and energy won over the crowd and further aroused interest in the work of the Monuments Men and our ongoing effort to put their legacy to the best possible use.

The Dallas Holocaust Museum is doing such important work in our community. Their ongoing plan to build a new museum in the West End area of downtown is proceeding well, even in these difficult times. Each day hundreds of visitors, in particular school kids, visit the museum and have a chance to learn about the horrific events that led to the Holocaust. Survivors often visit to meet and speak to these kids providing them with an experience they will cherish forever. The leadership of this important Dallas institution has wisely broadened their reach by emphasizing the role increased tolerance of others plays in building a more harmonious world. This is a great message to be delivering to kids through their schools, and it is no doubt one of the reasons the Dallas Holocaust Museum is growing in size and audience.

I want to express a special word of thanks to Jim Hogue and Elliott Dlin for their support of our work and making the event so memorable for me, my family, and my friends. It was an experience I will never forget.

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JUST ONE REASON WHY PRESIDENT OBAMA IS A GOOD THING

November 6th, 2008 | 5:57 pm

(Diego Edsel)

During the election returns I received 7 phone calls from my 15 year old son asking me questions about our political system. “What is the electoral college?” Why don’t states percentage totals add up to 100%?” Lots and lots of questions from a young man watching his first United States election after living in Florence, Italy for almost 13 years. Clearly, he was one of those fired up youths of which we heard so much about during the final weeks of the campaigns. Surely the stirring of curiosity about our political system, in particular the election process, and a greatly increased voter turnout bodes well for our nation. With all due respect to Senator McCain, President-elect Obama stirred those passions, his rival did not. Now come the difficulty days ahead …governing, leading, inspiring, dreaming big while executing precisely.

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EMBRACE CHANGE

November 5th, 2008 | 3:54 pm

Can there be a greater nation than America? For those who make comparisons to the decline of the Roman Empire as a way of saying our country’s better days are past, I ask you, is there a nation with the ability to change itself more quickly? A nation where a long-oppressed minority has risen to the highest office in our land in such a relatively quick period if time? (Can you believe that just 40 or so years ago, after almost 200 years of nationhood, black Americans weren’t even allowed to vote!).

This amazing country never ceases to amaze. Sometimes we do seem slow on the uptake, but I believe Americans, in their innate desire to be fair, allow the benefit of the doubt which means the pendulum may swing a bit too far in any given direction. And it may, as a consequence, takes a bit more time to react. But when clarity arrives, Americans are not timid to express their choice. Last night is but one example.

A glass barrier has been broken. Women must be next…and that, too, will be a good thing. Perhaps our new President-elect will govern successfully (I certainly hope so and will do all I can, within my miniscule little bit part, to make his leadership a success), or maybe not. But either way, our nation’s ability – and the wisdom of the voters -to shake things up, to say “we need to have someone who fires us up emotionally, to show the world that our country is just as global in color, diversity, and religious background if not more than the rest of the world, is genius at it’s core. I truly believe the Founding Fathers would be proud beyond words. Their dream…that all men ARE created equal…has taken a major step towards being realized.

Let us not overlook the service to our nation of John McCain, a patriot and hero in every since of the word. No nation can attain much less retain greatness without such citizens. He has made our nation stronger through his service.

I pray that we citizens, as the masters of our fate as Americans, set aside our differences, ignore the vitriol of the media talking heads whose needs for ratings inspire only divisiveness and shock politics, and prove once again what the world believes and only we as Americans occasionally doubt…that the United States of America has a greatness that can be measured in its compassion for others and it’s sincere desire for people throughout the world to have an opportunity to experience just once what Americans have always enjoyed: Freedom!

I wish President-elect Obama and Senator Biden the utmost success and pledge my support. Thank you to Senator McCain for all the years of service you have provided to this country. We are the richer and better nation for it. I pray the divisiveness that has embraced our nation’s leadership – and so many of our fellow citizens – will find no welcome refuge in our new Congress nor at the White House. This is a time for unity, national effort towards common goals, and shared sacrifice for the greater good of the Republic. Being a great nation is not a guaranty…it is a result that is earned.

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WISE COUNCIL OF MY FATHER

November 4th, 2008 | 7:01 pm

My dearly missed dad, A. Ray Edsel, had so many funny ways of reinforcing a point that it is often difficult to remember them all. On the few occasions when someone hurled an insult at me, or told me all the reasons why in their opinion I didn’t measure up, why I could never be good at something, or why I had betrayed them, he always told me his story about Mac.

It seems Mac, who drove an 18 wheeler, was sitting at the counter of a roadside diner, quietly waiting for his hamburger to be delivered, when in walked a group of Hell’s Angels. The bikers loudly proceeded to find a table near the counter while in the process making disparaging comments on the few other people eating their meals. Once seated, they saw ole Mac sitting there, by himself, minding his own business. Just as the waitress delivered his food, one of the bikers got up and walked over to Mac and said, “Hey buddy, that burger looks a little dry, maybe you need some ketchup on it”, and then proceeded to pour most of the contents of the ketchup bottle all over the burger. The Hell’s Angels laughed in unison, but Mac said nothing, picked up his knife, wiped aside as much of the ketchup as he could, and took a bite. The biker, in utter amazement, sat down. But, egged on by the others at his table, one of his buddies rose from his seat and walked over to Mac and said “Those french fries looked like they could use some salt”, and then unscrewed the lid on the salt shaker and emptied it on the fries and burger. Mac quietly looked at the guy, shook his head, crumpled up his napkin, paid for the uneaten meal, and walked out of the restaurant. The biker who dumped the salt shaker returned to his table and said to his buddies, loudly, “Can you believe that guy…he was such a wimp, we completely ruined his meal yet he paid for it. He didn’t defend himself, he just took it. That guy sure wasn’t much of a man.” Just as he said this, while the laughter of his buddies was subsiding, someone new came walking into the restaurant who overheard what the Hell’s Angel had said and blurted out…”That guy wasn’t much of a truck driver either, you ought to see what he just did to that row of motorcycles parked out back!”

Dad knew the power of making a good point with some humor. He enjoyed watching me mature from the little boy who was so mad from the slight of the moment that when he started telling this story, I didn’t want to laugh even though I was dying to do so, to an adult who gradually learned the power of restraint and how to use it to openly-directly-and decisively-deal with such matters. Still, the story was funny; we both always laughed all the way through its multiple tellings over the years.

I was reminded of his wisdom…and story…today. Thanks, Dad.

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WHAT MAKES THIS NATION GREAT

November 3rd, 2008 | 7:36 pm

Tomorrow is Election Day in the United States. It provides all Americans with the opportunity to vote—to express their voices about who we wish to lead us into the second decade of this already eventful new millennium. I consider this privilege of voting, followed by each citizen’s right to issuance of a United States Passport, the most defining aspects of democracy. We as Americans are so lucky really…we even have the choice to IGNORE this right and NOT vote although I must profess my personal disdain with those don’t vote and then vigorously complain about what is wrong with government of our nation.

Tomorrow is about YOU!!! It is that unique moment when the system of democracy pauses to listen to you. Let your voice be heard…the small amount of time you may have to wait in line somewhere will pass so quickly you won’t remember it by the time the election returns come rolling in tomorrow evening. I promise you that you’ll feel better every time you have something critical to say during the next four years about government or our new leaders. Besides, you’ll get a chance to meet some other fellow citizens who care deeply about the country and the challenges we face will doing so. And if the polls are at all accurate, you will be participating in history, regardless of who receives your vote.

So I encourage each of you to get our tomorrow if you haven’t voted absentee, and do the most of American things by voting!!! Your country needs you…more than ever.

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