UW–Madison Library’s Own Monuments Men

February 4, 2014
Monuments Men, photo courtesy Columbia Pictures
Monuments Men, photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

“Archivists and librarians don’t typically get a lot of publicity. So when Hollywood stars like Matt Damon and George Clooney portray the heroic contributions that archivists made to World War II, it’s a pretty big deal,” opens an article by Susannah Brooks published today (February 4, 2014) from UW–Madison News.

Monuments Men, co-produced by Columbia Pictures and Babelsberg Studio and directed by George Clooney himself, is scheduled to be released February 7, 2014. The film tells the story of 7 museum directors, curators, and art historians who entered Nazi Germany during the end of World War II in order to rescue artwork plundered during the war. These 7 men are only a sampling of the 345 men and women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program during the war.

While not portrayed in the film, several of the MFAA members hailed from our own UW–Madison: Gilbert Doane and Jesse Boelle, who both put tremendous effort into preserving University history and knowledge. Doane was Director of the Libraries from 1937 through 1956, which included a position as director of the Library School as well from 1938-1941. He was granted leave in 1943 to work in Germany and aid in the restoration of artworks. He continued working as Director until he stepped over to the University Archives, working alongside Jesse Boell from 1956-1962.

Jesse Boell served as director of the national historical records survey from 1936-1941, and then moved on to the National Archives’ War Records Office. At the end of the war, he accepted a position as archives officer in Germany. Boell returned to Wisconsin in 1947 as state archivist at the Wisconsin Historical Society. In 1959 he was named associate professor and director of the newly formed UW Archives. He became full professor and university archivist in 1962, where he remained until his retirement in 1971.

The Kohler Art Library wrote an extensive Research Guide about art looting, destruction, and protection in World War II, including actions taken by Germany, Austria, the Soviet Union, Italy, and the United States.

There is a lot more to the story! Read more about these two men (and see pictures) and the MFAA on the UW News site.

The UW–Madison Archives Tumblr is currently featuring a series of articles on Doane and Boell.

Go to Memorial Library at 728 State Street from February 7th to the 28th to see the exhibit: Our Monuments Men: UW’s Role in Rescuing Europe’s Treasures.

Read about the exhibit in the Wisconsin State Journal and find out more about Wisconsin’s Monuments Men and their personal war experiences in this fascinating Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

Archivist David Null of the UW–Madison Archives spoke about UW’s Monuments Men on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time program on Monday, February 24. Click here to listen to or download the interview!