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German Soldiers taking away the Treasure of Monte Cassino Abbey
German Soldiers taking away the Treasure of Monte Cassino Abbey

How the Germans saved the library of Monte Cassino

A doctor that was working in the Herman Goering Division called Tennent Maximilian Becker was asked to organize a hospital in Teano. It was the beginning of October 1943 and while he was here; he discovered that in St. Antony Convent where preserved some cases of the National Library of Naples.

He was so interested in history of art and books that he organized the moving of the cases from the front line to Spoleto. Becker was afraid that the bombing could destroy the books and masterpieces during the German retreat. Because of this destruction had already happened in Naples and in the surrounding area, this eventuality could really happen. The Franciscan Fathers of Teano told him that there was another deposit who needed to be saved in the Abbey next to Cassino and he understood that he had to try to save also this second treasure. In Monte Cassino Abbey there were 70.000 volumes and the so-called archive with 80.000 documents, part of the National deposit. But there were also a lot of cases of different museums of Naples and the medal collection of Siracusa.

Ready to move all the treasure of Montecassino

So with the help of Colonel Schlegel, everything was transported to Spoleto in a deposit of the Goering Division. When the archivist, father Tommaso Leccisotti arrived to Rome with the private treasure of Monte Cassino he informed the Vatican and the Italian Superintendence of Cultural Heritage of Rome, that the German had transported all the cases. They had a deposit in a secret place, so secret that nobody knew where it was. The trucks started shortly to transport all the masterpieces to Spoleto, but the monks didn't know where the treasure could be transported. The German ambassador Von Wezaecker was able on 31st October to get in touch with the German Ambassador to the Holy See and to know where the deposit in Spoleto was. The place chosen as deposit was Colle Ferreto next to Spoleto. When Kesselring knew all what was happening, he ordered to the Goering Division to give the cases back to Vatican.

The trucks are ready to go

Naturally, the danger of being destroyed by the bombing was the same of being stolen. We are sure that some  paintings were moved from Montecassino and sent to the private collection of Herman Goering. Some of them were found later, some of them are still missing today. One masterpiece that was found was the so called "Seated Hermes" By Lysippos, stolen to the Archaeological Museum of Naples.

From December to January, the cases came back to Vatican with a very simple ceremony. On 4 January 1944, 600 cases full of books of the National Library of Naples were given to the Germans in Piazza Venezia.

The books were transported to Palazzo della Sapienza.



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The treasure of Montecassino before the war

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Dr. Anna Maria Priora Ph.D

WW2 Monte Cassino Battlefield expert, researcher and tour guide

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