Monuments Women | God's World News

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Monuments Women

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    Visitors view an exhibit about Monuments Men and Women at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. It features a recreation of a salt mine where Nazis hid artwork during World War II. (AP/Christiana Botic)
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    Mary Regan Quessenberry examined stolen works, tracked looting cases, and investigated suspicious art dealers. (Monuments Men and Women Foundation Collection/The National WWII Museum via AP)
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    Monuments Woman Rose Valland described her wartime experience in her memoir. (AP/LM Otero)
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    Members of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section Unit recover a stolen artwork from the Altaussee salt mine in 1945. (Public domain)
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    Visitors view the Monuments Men and Women exhibition at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. (AP/Christiana Botic)
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“An absolute pistol,” says Monuments Men author Robert Edsel of Mary Regan Quessenberry, and “just full of stories.” Many of her best tales involve experiences during and after World War II. Her assignment? Protect and track stolen treasure.

Adolf Hitler’s Nazis were notorious looters and thieves. They ransacked Europe’s priceless art. Some experts say Nazis stole 650,000 artworks from museums and wealthy Jewish families.

Beginning in 1943, Allied forces fought back on the art front. They opened the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section Unit (MFAA). Artists, architects, historians, and museum curators worked to locate, safeguard, and repair stolen or damaged artwork.

MFAA officers entered areas newly freed from Nazi control. They identified cultural sites and objects needing protection.

After the war, MFAA officers set out to return stolen works to their owners. The work was exciting and sometimes dangerous. They became known as Monuments Men.

But not all were men.

About 27 women participated in the MFAA, including French art expert Rose Valland. She secretly tracked stolen art after the Nazis based their looting operation out of the museum where she worked. The Nazis spoke freely in front of Valland—not realizing she knew German.

Monuments Men and Women Foundation president Anna Bottinelli says, “It was thanks to her notes and all of her spying” that the MFAA recovered many pieces.

Art scholar Quessenberry was another Monuments Woman. With a master’s degree in art history, she traveled to examine stolen art, track looting cases, advise on restoration, and investigate shady art dealers across Europe. Much of her work focused on looting done by American troops.

Artwork wasn’t the only thing taken during the war. Romans 13:7 says: “Pay to all what is owed to them: . . . respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor.” It was decades before Valland, Quessenberry, and other Monuments Women received credit for their important work.

In 2022, the Monuments Men and Women Foundation updated its name to recognize women’s contributions.

Today, U.S. Army heritage and preservation officers work to preserve and safeguard cultural heritage around the world.

Captain Jessica Wagner is part of the new version of the group she studied in graduate school. She finds that fact “a little bit surreal.”

Ensuring women got the recognition they deserved was important to Quessenberry, according to her friend Ken Scott. He calls her “very strong and vocal about it.”

Scott says Quessenberry described being a monuments officer as “the most thrilling time of her life.”

Why? Careful research and critical thinking can shed light on real stories and true heroes throughout history.

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