MANATEE -- Robert Edsel, author of "The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History," headlined The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee's "People of the Book" event recently at Riverview High School.
Edsel spoke about his research of the Nazis looting Europe's arts treasures and the making of the Monuments Men film directed by and starring George Clooney.
Under Adolf Hitler's direction, the Nazis stole art for a museum Hitler planned to build in Austria. In 1945, the Monuments Men, a small troop formed near the end of the war, found 39 original albums assembled by Hitler's special task force that catalogued the stolen art.
Edsel's investigation of why art was not destroyed during the war led him to the discovery of the band of soldiers who rescued the stolen art hidden in mines across Austria.
Edsel delivered a message to raise awareness for stolen treasures still to be found.
Kim Mullins, director of operations for the Jewish Federation, said the event drew nearly 800 people.
Chairwoman Ina Schnell coordinated the event along with Mullins.
"She is intimately aware of the work of the Monuments Men and what this group of people accomplished," Mullins said. "She was very eager to bring Robert Edsel in and share his work with the community."
Schnell said the inaugural People of the Book event aimed to bring a successful book with a powerful message to the community by meeting the author.
Schnell said she thought the Monuments Men subject matter appealed to supporters of the Jewish Federation.
"It deals not only with the art, but it also dealt with the art of Jewish people that was stolen," Schnell said. "The significance is these brave middle-aged men, who didn't have to go to war, risked their lives in World War II to save art from the Nazis. It has relevance today when you consider what happened in Iraq. Their art treasures that belonged to the people and their culture were stolen, and the art wasn't protected. That is an example of what happens in war."
Schnell said Edsel's speech was compelling, and even though she had already seen the movie and read the book, she still found herself entranced.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Edsel is founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. He also has donated two albums of photographic evidence of the Third Reich's theft of art treasures to the U.S. National Archives
Edsel said the foundation's quest is based on "a simple conviction."
"Art defines who we are as a culture," Edsel said in a press release. "It's a legacy of our heritage. A sad, empty world would exist if it weren't for the beauty of architecture, books, tapestries, sculpture, monuments and other works of art. These albums -- used as evidence during the Nuremberg Trials -- have become important documents to humanity. I hope that these past discoveries will encourage other members of the MFAA and their families, as well as other veterans, to look in their attics and basements for any wartime items that might help unravel the unsolved mystery."