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. 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.