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Monte Cassino before the war. 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 were 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 German organised the transport
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. It was a very precious treasure that was sent to Monte Cassino Abbey keeping the secret. It was Better not to let the Germans know what was inside the case.
Ready to move all the treasure of Monte Cassino
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. It was not clear for them too, and they were afraid to lose their treasure.
Monte Cassino before the war. The treasure of Monte Cassino saved by the Germans
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 as being stolen. We are sure that some paintings were moved from Montecassino and sent to the private collection of Herman Goering.
Back to Montecassino Abbey
Some paintings 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. Now they are back in the Abbey. To know something more about the rebuilding and the library, please ready here
Our tours of Monte Cassino abbey
All our tours are planned to visit the Abbey and during the visit we usually show pictures and video about the old original Abbey, the bombing and the rebuilding. This experience will be a unique one for you.