Things I learned as “Monuments Girl”

I write this final blog post from home, having returned stateside, leaving behind the grand European environs. It feels bittersweet to say goodbye to my Monuments Girl mission, tracing my grandfather’s footsteps and living life fully in the present, while focusing on puzzles of the past. I was just getting used to the rhythm of traveling by train, using my phrasebook, searching for WiFi, and making connections in unexpected places. At the same time, returning home to family never felt so good; it means so much to be able to share my new insights with loved ones. History normally seems so distant from modern life as a millennial.

It turns out that this trip was way bigger than the story of me and my grandfather. My personal connection to a piece of history became a window into much larger spheres. My journey became all about bridging gaps between generations, making peace between nations, understanding history, and realizing the interconnectedness of all people. It’s inspiring to think about the impact one individual can make, and how each one of us can make a difference, no matter what our field of expertise may be.

Out of all the things my grandfather wrote in “Survival,” by far my favorite is the statement he made having arrived in Germany in the spring of 1945. It bears the imprint of his strong moral backbone, his modus operandi. “The value of works of art to civilization is not limited by national boundaries” (J. Rorimer 137). It’s incredible that my grandfather was able to maintain this standpoint, in spite of the gruesome wartime conditions and the military groupthink at the time. Not only did he understand what things were, he also understood what they meant to individuals, to nations, and to the future history of civilizations. His legacy encourages us to look to the present and ask ourselves honestly if we are learning from the past or allowing history to repeat itself.

For a long time, I felt sad knowing that my grandfather died so young, in the midst of a grand career. It seemed that his family and everyone who knew him had been deprived of so much goodness. Now, I understand how fortunate he was to be able to return from war alive and well, to share his story by writing a book, and to re-establish civilian life with a loving family and a thrilling career. So many people never even had a chance to tell their stories after World War II. This fact has brought a newfound sense of gratitude: a sense of peace that washes away the pain of the past. Although I never met my grandfather in person, I can say that I feel I know him well now.

I’ll close with a quote from Cue Magazine in which my grandfather summarizes his wartime experiences.

Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and connecting in such meaningful ways during the last two weeks. It has been an incredible journey, and it would not have been nearly as rich, if it hadn’t been for you – my audience. Thank you so much for joining me!

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22 thoughts on “Things I learned as “Monuments Girl”

  1. Thank you sooo much for sharing your story. You are a wonderful writer as well and managed to follow and share the essence of your grand father’s story in a way I wouldn’t have wanted to miss for the world.

  2. Thank you , Sarah! I have a little catch up to do, but so loved your wise and peaceful closing to a monumental tour! I’m blessed to have joined you. Welcome home!
    Xox Becky

  3. Dear Sarah, Welcome back. I really enjoyed following your journey. You are an excellent writer. I hope you continue with your writings and perhaps consider expanding your blog into a book or drama.

  4. Sarah, I have so enjoyed your blog, and will miss it!! How fortunate you were to be able to go on such a meaningful journey, and I feel fortunate that you shared with all of us!!

  5. Sarah, i am sad for this to come to an end. i so enjoyed reading about your experience – the depth of it and your talent in communicating about it so thoughtfully and skillfully. You created an amazing, life-altering set of experiences for yourself, and a most meaningful connection to a loved one. How admirable and inspiring for others.

  6. And now dear Sarah, you can continue your grandfather’s footsteps by writing your own book 🙂 i will have to catch up with your latest blogs from Germany, as I didn’t get a minute in the last few days to do so…. C’ètait un vrai plaisir de te voir à Paris. À plus!

  7. Sarah,

    Welcome back home! What an incredible experience you’ve had! And you’ve beautifully documented both your grandfather’s historical and artistic efforts in WWII and also your fascinating, creative and inspiring insights for all of us who’ve been interested. You have done a “monumental” work of retracing and describing your grandfather’s steps in this now-famous effort of his to save Europe’s art, and also encapsulating daily your own unique and special perspective you’ve continued to gain, following his paths I will say again, you are an excellent writer yourself!..capable of really wonderful descriptions of your insights and self-revelations. I have a few blogs to catch up on, having just returned from being away a few days. ( This last blog was especially fascinating, to see how this trip changed and expanded your thought.) It tells me you honestly should continue with some form of writing…I’ve loved “seeing you” as you wrote, and learning more about you from your deep thoughts expressed in your blog. Thanks for taking us along on your wonderful journey!

    • Carol, Thank you ever so much for reading! (I know there were a lot of details to absorb)! I thank you for your kind words, and I do hope to find more outlets for writing in the future! Hugs to you!!!

  8. Dear Sarah,
    I, too, am sad to see your journey end. Thank you for intertwining the past and present into a tapestry of poignant historical events. Welcome back to New York and see you in a few weeks at school. Remember to keep thinking “BOOK DEAL!”

  9. Sarah,

    What a fascinating adventure. I have learned so much about your grandfather and the Monuments Men heroes because of my connection with you through Kelli. This personal connection has brought this entire story to life in such an amazing way. I ordered the movie through Netflix and it arrived today. I plan to watch it while referring to your blog. Thanks for sharing your story.

  10. Excellent job Sarah. What a wonderful experience and your grandfather (not to mention your father and mother) no doubt is very proud of you! Enjoyed it all.

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