December 20th, 2013 | 12:01 am
“Now, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the worst attack ever on U.S. soil, the tension had turned into an almost desperate need to act. An air raid on a major American city seemed likely; an invasion by Japan or Germany, or even both, not out of the question. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Japanese galleries were closed for fear of attacks by angry mobs. At the Walters Gallery in Baltimore, small gold and jeweled items were removed from the display cases so as not to tempt firemen with axes who might enter for an emergency. In New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was closing at dusk for fear of visitors running into things or stealing pictures in a blackout. Every night, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was moving paintings to a sandbagged area, then rehanging them in the morning. The Frick Collection was blacking its windows and skylights so that enemy bombers couldn’t spot it in the middle of Manhattan.” – The Monuments Men
On December 20-21, 1941, museum leaders from across the country met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to discuss plans to protect their collections.
At the meeting, Paul Sachs issued a resolution, stating:
“If, in time of peace, our museums and art galleries are important to the community, in time of war they are doubly valuable. For then, when the petty and the trivial fall way and we are face to face with final and lasting values, we… must summon to our defense all our intellectual and spiritual resources. We must guard jealously all we have inherited from a long past, all we are capable of creating in a trying present, and all we are determined to preserve in a foreseeable future. Art is the imperishable and dynamic expression of these aims. It is, and always has been, the visible evidence of the activity of free minds.”
In hindsight, we know that a further attack on American soil never occurred. However, this meeting had lasting effects: it served as the birthplace of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section. After the Met meeting, Monuments Man George Stout and Harvard Professor Paul Sachs continued to reach out to museum leaders to develop a plan of action for when the Allies would inevitably arrive in Europe, for it had become obvious that it was the cultural treasures of Europe, not America, that would need protection. The Monuments Men were the embodiment the eloquent words Sachs spoke in December 1941.
To learn more about this historic event, read The Monuments Men. __________________________________________________________________________