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    America's heroic ART COLLECTORS: Rag tag bag of experts who turned WW2 soldiers and inspired George Clooney's latest movie

    As the Nazi's razed their way across Europe they looted the world's greatest works of art so that they could realize Adolf Hitler's twisted vision for his eponymous 'Fühermuseum' - which would be built in his hometown of Linz, Austria.

    With much of the artwork hostage behind enemy lines, a tiny British-American taskforce made up of museum directors, art historians and curators was created and charged with saving over 1,000 years of culture from the maniacal grasp of Hitler and his cronies.

    Dubbed the Monuments Men, the rag-tag group was co-opted into the armed forces and sent into Europe following D-Day in 1944 on the greatest treasure hunt of all time, to recover and return the pieces of art to their rightful owners and reverse the cultural attack of an entire continent.

    Recovery: An American soldier looks over some of the valuable paintings which were part of the huge collection of art stolen by the Germans in Italy and stored in a castle near Merano during World War II in 1945

    Indeed, the fascinating tale of the roughly 345 men and women from 13 countries who were part of the Monument's Men has been given the Hollywood treatment in the shape of a George Clooney film which has already managed to create Oscar buzz.

    Written, directed by and starring Clooney, 'The Monuments Men' will tell the story of a hand-picked group of art experts chosen by the U.S. government to retrieve the artwork stolen by the Nazi's.

    Based on the book, 'The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History' by Robert M. Edsel, Clooney plays Lieutenant Commande George Stout - who has to train his rag-tag bunch of aesthetes in the art of war as they risk their lives to protect the cultural wealth of the world from Adolf Hitler.

    Indeed, the story of the Monuments Men only came to light when Edel, rich from the sale of his Dallas oil and gas company, found himself standing in the art-drenched Italian city of Florence.

    Standing on the city's famous medieval covered bridge — the Ponte Vecchio — he began to contemplate how so many famous sites and works of art in Europe survived the destruction of World War II.

    With the answer, Edsel, the businessman who had developed a love for art, found a mission: Honoring and continuing the work the Monuments Men, a group from Western Allied countries made up mostly of those with an art expertise who worked with the military to protect cultural treasures as battles were waged and, in the years after the war, returned works of art to their rightful owners.

    Hollywood Royalty: Matt Damon (left picture and right picture) and George Clooney star in the upcoming The Monuments Men' which recounts the tale of the British-American division charged with recovering stolen artworks from the Nazis

    Recovery: George Clooney and Matt Damon star in 'The Monuments Men' which will be released in December

    Treasure: Pu Garrison of the U.S. Army sits with rifle across his knees and keeps watch and ward over Venus and Adonis, one of the famous paintings found among the loot stored in a cave near Berchtegaden by Hermann Goering

    Storage: The Nazi's hid the stolen artworks across Europe in hastily constructed vaults across the continent (left) such as Hermann Goering's private treasure cave near Berchtesgaden (right)

    Masterpieces: U.S. Soldiers examine 'Wintergarden', famous painting by the French impressionist Edouard Manet, found in collection of Reichbank wealth, SS loot, and art treasures removed by the Nazis from Berlin to mine in Merkers, Germany

    His work over the years — from founding the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art in 2007 after his return to Dallas to writing three books, including, "Saving Italy," released this week — has helped bring their story out of scholarly circles and to the public's attention.

    That recognition is set to skyrocket in December with the premiere of a movie based on Edsel's book, 'The Monuments Men,' directed by and starring George Clooney.

    'I think what they were involved in was pretty epic: Every work of art somewhere on the road during World War II, then finding these things and getting them back. I think they've earned the right to be recognized by name,' said Edsel, 56.

    Clarissa Post, a Sotheby's art expert, said Edsel's vision always included bringing the story to a wider audience.

    'It was always: Let's think big here. What are we going to do to bring this message forward? Because if we can bring this message forward to a wider audience, we can then really do something to honor these people who were involved,' said Post, who started her career at the auction house researching the provenance of works, especially those that might have been involved in the art theft by the Nazis.

    Heroes: George Clooney will play George Stout (left) in the upcoming movie version of 'The Monuments Men' which recounts the tale of men such as Walker Kirtland Hancock - who recovered stolen artwork from the Nazis

    Orders: General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, accompanied by General Omar N. Bradley, and Lt. General George S. Patton, Jr., inspects stolen art treasures hidden by the Nazis in a German salt mine in 1945

    Staggering: An American soldier discovers an 18th-century painting by Fragonard. It was part of stolen art from Goering's collection at Meunschwanstein Castle

    After his move to Europe in 1996, Edsel's musings started to put things in motion. By 2001, he had returned to the U.S. and focused more on the story of the roughly 345 men and women from 13 countries who were part of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section.

    The group was proposed by a commission established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 to promote the preservation of cultural properties during war.

    'I had friends asking me what I was working on and I'd say, 'The only thing I'm really interested in is this whole story about World War II and what happened to all of the art.' And lunch after lunch and dinner after dinner, I never had anybody stop me and said they that they knew about it," Edsel said.

    He tracked down Lynn Nicholas, author of 'The Rape of Europa,' which details the Nazi plunder of art and the efforts by the Western Allies to save it, telling her he wanted to make a documentary on her book.

    Theft: Hermann Goering, was one of 24 Nazi leaders tried for World War II war crimes in tribunals held in Nuremberg, Germany from October 18, 1945 to October 1, 1946 and a prolific thief

    Cultural Vandals: Hitler and Nazi Officers in a Berlin art gallery and (right) Hermann Goering and Adolph Hitler examine a painting at what is probably the exhibit 'Entartete Kunst' (Degenerate Art)

    Members of the 7th Army (including James J. Rorimer - left) unearth looted art treasures hidden by the Nazis

    Learning filmmakers already were working on it, he became a co-producer. He started compiling photographs to tell the story of the Monuments Men, which eventually became his first book:' Rescuing Da Vinci.'

    He interviewed Monuments Men and got access to letters written by those who had died.

    'I felt that the beating heart of the story was these letters that the Monuments Men wrote home during the war,' he said.

    The resulting book, 'The Monuments Men'" chronicles the experiences of members in northern Europe, including Harry Ettlinger, now 87.

    Ettlinger, who lives in New Jersey, fled Nazi Germany with his family the day after his bar mitzvah in 1938 and returned to Europe in 1945 with the U.S. Army. Ettlinger, fluent in German, volunteered to be a Monuments Man.

    His first assignment was to help interview Adolf Hitler's personal photographer and later went on to help return works of art tucked away in salt mines.

    He said that the group's work earned respect from the German people.

    Soldiers from the 7th US Army carry three priceless artworks down the steps of Meunschwanstein Castle where hoards of European art treasures, stolen by the Nazis, were hidden during World War II

    'They didn't quite understand how you could come along and give things back,' he said, adding, 'It gave you a good feeling.'

    Over the years, Edsel's foundation also has worked to continue the mission of the Monuments Men, which had members overseeing the restitution of stolen works of art for up to six years after the war ended.

    His foundation, for instance, has been contacted by those who realized something taken as a souvenir during WWII is a historical artifact and has helped with the repatriation of items, including the return to Germany of an album of photographs of artwork Hitler planned for his 'Fuhrermuseum.'

    Following their service as Monuments Men, members returned to their careers, including as architects, artists, curators and museum directors.

    Lola Scarpitta-Knapple, of Los Angeles, is grateful Edsel's work has brought attention to the group that included her late father, Salvatore Scarpitta Jr., an artist.

    'It's amazing how so many people can know about something that's so interesting but nobody takes the bull by the horns,' she said.

    'And Robert has the energy, the intellect and the heart to have done that.'

    An American soldier admires a 15th century statue of Eve, just one of the pieces of art to be revealed in the hidden cave at Konigsee, where Hermann Goering stored treasures taken from all over Europe. Germany, 1945

    And for that all Monuments Men are happy. Because I think they all wanted to talk about it in the way that was in the public arena because it was so important."

    Edsel started his foundation in 2007 to honor and continue the work of the original Monuments Men.

    After the war, they began trying to find the rightful owners of pieces of art looted by the Nazis, hundreds of thousands of which are still missing.

    'It's my desire to see the works of the Monuments Men completed,' said Edsel, who wrote two books detailing the group's work.

    Among the items U.S. soldiers seized from Adolf Hitler's Bavarian Alps hideaway in the closing days of World War II were albums meticulously documenting an often forgotten Nazi crime — the massive pillaging of artwork and other cultural items as German troops marched through Europe.

    Two of those albums — one filled with photographs of works of art, the other with snapshots of furniture — were donated Tuesday to the U.S. National Archives, which now has custody of 43 albums in a set of what historians believe could be as high as 100.

    Edsel, founder and president of the Dallas-based Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, which announced the discovery of the two new albums at a news conference, called them 'key pieces of evidence taken from a crime scene that were prized possessions of Adolf Hitler.'

    An American soldier discovers an 18th-century painting by Fragonard. It was part of stolen art from Goering's collection at Meunschwanstein Castle

    The Nazi agency Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, created the series of albums to document the items taken from across Europe. Of the 43 albums identified so far, 39 were discovered in May 1945 at Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.

    They were then used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to document the Nazi looting before eventually going to the National Archives.

    In 2007, the Monuments Men donated two additional albums after they were found in the attic of the family of a U.S. soldier, though the foundation has retained possession of one of those for the last few years as a teaching tool.
    'I think there's a lot more of them out there,' said Edsel, who noted that the albums were used as 'shopping catalogs' for Hitler to select works of art for various museums.

    Of the newly discovered albums, one contains photographs of 69 paintings that were taken as early as 1940. Most of those paintings appear to have been properly restituted, but an ERR database indicates four were not.

    The other newly found album contains photographs of 41 pieces of furniture, mostly taken from the Rothschild family.

    Edsel said that by 1951, the Monuments Men had processed and returned more than 5 million stolen objects.

    'It was the greatest treasure hunt in history — one that continues to this day,' Edsel said.

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    Day at the office: Lucy Mecklenburgh (above)
    and Amy Childs(below) both wore skintight dresses as they headed to their Essex boutiques on Saturday

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    Maria Menounos got in the ring to defeat Total Diva's pro-wrestler Eva Maria at the WWE Summerslam Axxess on Sunday in Los Angeles

    So excited: A glamorous Maria took to Twitter before the fight to share her excitement with her fans, writing, 'Supporting my girl and tag team partner'

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    High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale as she left the home of her best friend and former cast-mate Vanessa Hudgens on Saturday.

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    Yasmin Le Bon, 48,

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    Michelle Keegan 26 , Saturday evening
    The soap star opted for a canary yellow mini-dress for the outing as she headed to Australasia restaurant in Manchester UK

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    Emma Roberts running errands in New York City on Sunday

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    Lady Gaga Arrived at Good Morning America in a vintage Cadillac

    Premiered video for new single Applause on the TV show
    Then she continued promotion at Z100 radio station


    Lady Gaga appeared on the the Z100 Morning Show, alongside someone who was inspired by her music video

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    Ali Larter

    September issue of Health magazine

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    Imogen Thomas

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    Karrueche Tran while attending Zing Vodka's Kandyland soiree in Beverly Hills Saturday

    Karrueche just shot the fall campaign for Karmaloop clothing

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    Lily Collins as she arrived at the ITV studios on Monday

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    Olivia Wilde for a Drinking Buddies screening in Brooklyn Monday night

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    Kristin Cavallari as she promoted her latest designs for Chinese Laundry at Magic Convention at the Las Vegas Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada on Tuesday

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    Vanessa Hudgens with her younger sister Stella in Studio City on Tuesday

    Spinning: Last week Vanessa once again shook up her exercise regime with a spinning class

    Earlier this month, Vanessa when she appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
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    The former The Hills star Audrina Patridge in LA on Monday

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    Hilary Duff was seen leaving Pilates class in Studio City, California on Tuesday

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    Taylor Swift and Cher Lloyd perform a duet of Want U Back at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles on Monday night

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    Lucy Mecklenburgh as she wandered through The Grove in LA on Monday

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    Cate Blanchett
    The Australian actress, 44,as she attended the Sydney premiere of the film on Tuesday.

    Blue Jasmine is on in US cinemas now and will be released in UK on September 27.

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    Anna Kendrick in a new shoot for GQ magazine

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    Casual day: Katy Perry - errands in Beverly Hills, on Wednesday

    Chart topper: Katy's latest single Roar is set to break all of her previous sales records