Teacher Voice

Saving Art during Wartime: A Monument Man’s Mission

The activity “Saving Art during Wartime: A Monument Man’s Mission” provided students with a place to tap into ideas about what a society values, the importance of art, and the ethics and questions surrounding restitution after war.

Students were hooked with the trailer from the documentary film, Rape of Europa. The clip immediately caught their attention and imagination by introducing a subject with which few of them were familiar. In groups, the students started gathering more background knowledge with either the article “The Career of a Monument Man” or “The Monuments and Fine Arts Archives Commission (MFAA)”. Both articles sparked questions from the students—including the importance of art and why people would risk their own lives for art. The groups talked through these issues and there were varying student opinions. We spent a lot of time also discussing reparations—why art might be used for this, and who did art really belong to. These discussions kept them thinking about all the issues at hand for the next activity.

The class was divided into two sides (German and Russian) and met in teams to develop a policy statement and a pragmatic statement about the ownership of recently discovered German art in a Ukrainian art museum. As a teacher, I appreciated that this went from history (WW2) to modern day—it was a great example of why we study our past and how it affects our present. Students developed their arguments based on the provided article and both sides had really great points. They never came to an actual conclusion, but were invested in the discussion!
I appreciated that this activity brought to light a little known side of the war effort—and helped remember the sacrifice of those who valued these works for society as a whole. It also did a great job of bringing history into the present and made it relevant for students.

Some of the vocabulary may need to be defined—words like “repositories” and “transposed” were unfamiliar to my students. We had a lot of discussion about the importance of art first—if students don’t understand what art represents, they will never understand why it needs to be preserved. Great lesson and important ideas! Overall the students enjoyed it and learned about what is of value to a society, what is represents and why we should preserve culture.