Memoirs of a Monuments Officer: Protecting European Artworks
Author: John D. Skilton, Jr.
During World War II John Skilton wanted to use his training as an art historian
to help preserve European works of art from damage and theft, so he joined the
United States Army with the goal of becoming a Monuments Specialist Officer. In
this book he recounts the difficulties he encountered before achieving this unusual
objective, as well as his experiences in France and Germany during 1944 and 1945,
including accomplishments for which he was later decorated by the governments
of both countries.
While still a private, serving as an interpreter with a Civil Affairs unit, Skilton
rescued the damaged pieces of an important 17th-century roadside shrine in Brittany,
placing them in a nearby barn so the sculptures could later be restored. Eventually
he was reassigned to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, with
which he helped to discover a huge cache of stolen art that the Nazis had stored in
Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria.
Skilton's most significant accomplishments took place in Wurzburg, where he
arranged for the construction of a roof over the bombed-out palace of the princebishops,
preventing destruction of its extensive interior frescos and other decorations.
He also arranged for the recovery and safe storage of numerous artworks and
archives that had been dispersed throughout the countryside for safekeeping during
the war, and took steps to ensure that various historic churches and castles in the
Mainfranken region were protected from looting.
Lieutenant Skilton's memoir offers an engaging and elegantly-written narrative
of his dealings with a broad range of people, including princely art collectors and
civilian refugees, former Nazi officials and regular G.I.s, as well as his often frustrating
encounters with Army bureaucracy at all levels. This book will appeal to art and
military historians, both professional and amateur, as well as anyone interested in a
lively and personal perspective on the intersection between art and war.