Thursday, May 30, 2013

G.I.'s family returns World War II antiquities to Italy

Antiques lifted from an Italian church by a G.I. during World War II, were returned in a ceremony at the Italian Embassy, the latest in a call for aging veterans and their families to repatriate such "souvenirs" of the war. In 1944, Irving Tross of Chicago, now 96,  was a radio operator with the U.S. Army's 88th Infantry Division. The soldiers came across  170 crates of cultural property hidden by the University of Naples library during the Invasion of Italy, inside a church that was damaged by shelling and some of them it seems helped themselves to some of what they found. Mr Tross was troubled by his conscience however which led to yesterday's ceremony. The return
represents the latest efforts of the Monuments Men Foundation, a group set to become more famous this year with the release of the upcoming movie, The Monuments Men, starring and directed by George Clooney. The film will highlight efforts spearheaded by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, acting as allied commander, in a 1943 order that required all military personnel to safeguard cultural treasures. The order created the Monuments Men, formally the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, some 345 men and women, curators, librarians, historians and artists, who raced around Europe in the last years of World War II, until 1951, seeking the return of looted artwork and antiquities. [...] Ironically, the United States only formally ratified a 1954 international treaty built around Eisenhower's orders in 2008, says antiquities law expert Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University in Chicago. Eisenhower's elevation of protecting cultural artifacts into a military priority was a far-sighted change to the rules of war, she says. "I think it is a fair question to ask if we are doing as good a job now as we did then," Gerstenblith says.
There is also a book out, by Robert Edsel, "Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis". The recent ceremony, however, is a reminder that it was not just "the Nazis" who were pinching stuff, as happens everywhere, many people took advantage of the chaos of conflict to enrich themselves.

Dan Vergano,  G.I.'s family returns World War II antiquities to Italy USAToday May 29, 2013.

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