October 21, 2015 / 9:00 PM / 4 years ago

'Monuments Men' to be honored by Congress as their foundation closes

DALLAS (Reuters) - Days before a World War Two group is to be honored by the U.S. Congress for recovering and preserving millions of works of art stolen by the Nazis, a Dallas foundation that honors their legacy announced it was shutting down for lack of funding.

The Dallas-based Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art will close at the end of October, founder Robert Edsel told The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday. He was not immediately available to comment on the report.

Edsel, a former oil and gas producer, has become an expert on the World War Two treasurer hunters and wrote the book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” which was the basis of a 2014 movie starring George Clooney.

On Thursday, the Monuments Men will go to Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.

The foundation has sought this medal as recognition of the extraordinary achievement of the 345 men and women, many of them arts experts, who worked with the allied armies’ Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section to help recover cultural treasures stolen by the Nazis.

Most of the Monuments Men, from 14 different countries, have already died.

“This has been nine years in the making,” Edsel told Reuters on Tuesday about the medal effort. Edsel, who established the non-profit in 2007 to promote the work of the Monuments Men and continue their mission, spoke to Reuters before the Morning News reported the foundation would close.

Four of the six survivors of the group will attend the ceremony, including Harry Ettlinger, who escaped to the United States from Nazi Germany with his Jewish family in 1938 and was later drafted into the U.S. Army.

He volunteered to serve with the Monuments Men in 1945.

“Ettlinger was part of the Allied forces discovery of the Heilbronn-Kochendorf salt mines, filled with thousands of works of art, including stained glass windows from the Strasbourg Cathedral in France and a self-portrait of the artist Rembrandt,” said U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.

Through the foundation’s efforts, 18 additional objects have been returned to their rightful owners, including paintings, historical documents and rare books, Edsel said.

Among its returns were five paintings that were discovered in the United States that had been brought back by U.S. soldiers who took them as souvenirs, or bought them in Europe unaware that they had been stolen.

Edsel said the film helped heightened awareness of the stolen treasures and resulted in more tips to the foundation.

The foundation has raised about $3.5 million but the work has cost more than $7 million, which he paid himself.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz, editing by David Alexander

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