The Monuments Men Foundation, created to honor and further the work of the World War II art experts who saved cultural treasures looted by the Nazis, will probably cease ongoing operations this month, its creator said Wednesday.
Robert M. Edsel, who founded the Dallas-based organization in 2007, said the foundation is closing for lack of funding.
As Edsel spoke, representatives of the Monuments Men are scheduled on Thursday to be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow.
The ceremony is set for 3 p.m. in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Four representatives of the group are expected to attend, including Harry Ettlinger, 89, of Rockaway, N.J., one of the original Monuments Men.
Edsel, an author who wrote a book about the group that became a 2014 movie, said that despite the success of both, the foundation had difficulty raising money.
He said he poured several million dollars of his own money into the organization and sold his art collection to raise funds.
It’s been “a lot of years and a lot of sacrifices,” he said. “We just reached the limit.”
He said the goal of honoring the monuments men and women had been accomplished, but he believed such work is needed, given the destruction of antiquities in places including Syria and Iraq.
He said he might reconsider closing the foundation, but it would require a reliable, long-term source of funding.
The foundation’s closing was first reported by the Dallas Morning News.
The Monuments Men included more than 300 Allied men and women who helped scour Europe at the close of World War II for cultural treasures that the Nazis had looted across the continent and hidden away.
The group, including museum directors, curators, art historians, artists and architects, is credited with finding and saving millions of works of art.
“We, in contrast to the Nazis, had a policy, had a philosophy, to make sure that the cultures of people would remain so long as they respect other cultures,” Ettlinger said while he was in town last year for a ceremony at the National Archives.
“What we did during and after World War II is unique in the history of civilization,” he said.
Ettlinger grew up in Karlsruhe, Germany, where his father ran a women’s clothing store. But because his family was Jewish, the business was boycotted, and it closed in 1935.
Six weeks before Kristallnacht — the anti-Jewish rioting that swept Germany in November 1938 — Ettlinger and his family fled to the United States.
“My parents were relatively lucky that they were able to get out” with him and his younger brothers, he said last year.
Before they left, his grandfather took him and his brothers aside and told them: “You boys are going to become Americans.”
Ettlinger, who spoke fluent German and was drafted into the U.S. Army after high school, said he joined the Monuments Men in May 1945 as the war in Europe was ending. He was 19.
Past recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill.