Old books that survived wars and conflicts for 500 years are finally going home to Italy after being picked up as World War II souvenirs.
Today, in a chilled conference room of the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Josh Shapiro, the grandson of Irving Tross, now a 96 year old veteran of World War II, shared the story of the journey of the old books from war torn Italy to the suburbs of Chicago to a dark closed safety deposit box while the family sought to return Tross’ war souvenirs of to the people of Italy. These delicate 16th to 18th century marbled covered books with illustrations of shells, early human anatomy, Hebrew to Latin grammar, words of Aristotle and Isaac Newton rested on metal stands with white gloves for the esteemed gathering of diplomats, cultural heritage experts, historians and law enforcement to view before their return to the people of Italy.
“It is my grandfather’s wish that these books be returned.”
It was a small ceremony officiated by the Ambassador of Italy to the United States Claudio Bisogniero and the President of the Monuments Men Foundation, Robert Edsel and author of several books including the recently released Saving Italy and the Monuments Men, the major motion picture directed and starring George Clooney to be released in late 2013.
As war was unleashing in Europe, the University of Naples tried to protect much of their artifacts almost 55 miles up the coast in the abby of San Francesco in Minturo. As Allied Forces moved through Minturo, Iriving Tross, a young member of the 88th Infantry Division of the 339th Field Artillery Battalion found the books in the ruins and collected a few as souvenirs.
As Shapiro explained, his grandfather knew he wanted to return these books and meant to seek out the Italian consulate in Chicago. However, when hearing a NPR program on the Monuments Men Foundation, Shapiro and the family knew this was the opportunity to pursue. The family gave the books to the foundation, whose mission it is to raise awareness of the millions of European cultural heritage treasures brought home by soldiers and offering families a way to repatriate treasures back to their original home.
Ambassador Bisogniero praised the family of Irving Tross for returning these small and yet valued treasures and the Monuments Men Foundation for raising awareness of the many treasurers still missing and offering to facilitate their return.
In addition, Ambassador Bisogniero referred to ongoing efforts and collaborations to seek the return of Italian culture either looted or collected during war time as souvenirs. Ambassador Bisogniero explained that these books though small fragments of Italian culture, it does raise awareness and knowledge of
“how important it is to protect and safe guard the cultural historical heritage in these cultural treasures, because they are stepping stones of our foundation” and “at the same time they are a very strong link to our prosperity.”
Edsel recognized the courage of the Mr. Tross and said,
“Mr. Tross has set a great example which I hope will encourage other veterans and their families to look in their attics and basements for any lost wartime items. These books are just the tip of the iceberg for the millions of cultural items still missing since WWII, which the Monuments Foundation hopes to help locate in the coming years.”
Closing the ceremony Edsel and Minister Christiano Maggipinto signed documents officiating the exchange and the final return and journey of eight old books to the people of Italy.
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographers, Washington, D.C. (Please follow 9 Muses News copyright use policy.)
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For any international travelers – for diplomacy, business, media, tourism – know the laws before you bomb, destroy, purchase or sell cultural artifacts.
For institutions or families searching for missing art,
Holocaust Art Restitution Project –Plundered Art
Swiss Federal Office of Culture Bureau of Looted Art portal
For families discovering ‘souvenirs’ of veterans of foreign wars,
Ingenuity Cards to Protect Cultural Heritage in War, Conflict and Galleries by Keri Douglas