A Hollywood movie of the race to recover artworks stolen by the Nazis has been endorsed by a Belfast veteran who experienced the original wartime drama first hand.
Starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, The Monuments Men is based on the true story of the art specialists recruited to track down and recover the millions of priceless paintings and sculptures looted from museums and collectors across Europe.
On Friday night Teddy Dixon, who turns 94 next month, was a guest of the Movie House cinema where he relived some of his fondest memories from 1945.
The bakery worker had volunteered as an Air Raid Precautions officer prior to the Belfast Blitz, but was drafted into the US Army in June 1944 and sent to France.
His call-up came as a shock as his parents had returned from New York, where he was born, when he was only five.
Following basic training in England, Teddy joined the 42nd Rainbow Division and would eventually find himself in an Austrian salt mine surrounded by crates of thousands of artworks – reputed to have been personally siphoned off from the bulk of the Nazi hoard by Hermann Goering.
When Teddy’s unit reached the Salzburg region of Austria on May 9, 1945, they had encountered Hitler’s deputy on his way to surrender to American forces and word of the hidden treasures soon leaked out.
Teddy said the film brought back many memories as it was largely historically accurate.
“I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t more about the capture of Goering but the film itself wasn’t bad at all,” he said.
“I enjoyed it. It was definitely based on fact and it was quite well done – based on my point of view from having been down in the mines recovering the crates. In the film they show some of the stuff out of the crates but where I was they were all in the crates.”
The hoard included paintings by Michelangelo, Vermeer and Van Eyck.
As defeat became inevitable, in the spring of 1945 the Germans began destroying much of the looted art as the Americans closed in.
In The Monuments Men, the movie-makers have spiced up the plot to include the threat of advancing Russian forces recovering the artworks for themselves.
However, Teddy has no recollection of interference from Russian troops.
“No way were the Russians near us so I think that was made up a bit.
“The only time we encountered the Russians was when we were going to Vienna, as Vienna was split between the Russians, the French, the English and the Americans, the same as Berlin.
“But the film brought back a lot of memories,” Teddy added.