DIFF Documentary Review: ‘The Liberators’

Greetings again from the darkness. The story of how art was treated during WWII is fascinating: Himmler devised the plan to hide/store the valuable art in a cave to protect it from the bombings (they weren’t as worried about citizens); much of it was stolen by soldiers from both sides; and the decades of effort to recover and return the displaced works. Those recovery efforts have been chronicled on screen in The Monuments Men (2014) and the far superior documentary The Rape of Europa (2008).

First time director, and Denison Texas native, Cassie Hay narrows her focus to one specific case … the Quedinburg Treasures – a collection of medieval artifacts with tremendous religious and historical value. Her interest stems from the connection to the small town of Whitewright, Texas just outside of her hometown. In what could be described as a mixture of research, mystery and crime, Ms. Hay follows the work of Will Korte. He has spent a career tracking down missing/stolen WWII art, and considers the Quedinburg Treasures the most important case of his career.

The film avoids the use of a narrator, and instead utilizes first person interviews and news clips. Much of this occurs in regards to the research … both Mr. Korte and those local to Whitewright, including the Meador family, friends and neighbors. The trail leads to Joe Tom Meador, and ultimately to the recovery of a substantial portion of the treasure.

When the focus shifts to the trial, the film loses a little steam, as by this time, much of the mystery has been solved. The interviews with super attorney Dick DeGuerin have some interest due to his philosophy about good people doing bad things, as well as his humorous perspective on how the case never should have gone to trial.

There is little argument in the adage that artistic relics provide much of the cultural heritage for any society or era, and this story carries an odd twist in that the motivation may never be determined so that we might classify as either the spoils of war or outright theft. It’s also dumbfounding to think that a Goodwill Store might have played a key role in the missing pieces (if one is to believe the family).

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