Eight Rare Books to Italy
Eight antique books picked up by a G.I. from a bombed church in the Italian countryside were returned to its rightful owner, the L University Library of Naples, one of the oldest libraries in the world.
AT A GLANCE...
1. Giulio Ballino, Il Trattato di Aristotele delle virtu e de' vitii and Il Trattato di Plutarco dell'amor de' figliuoli (1565).
2. Francesco Bindoni, & Mapheo Pasini, ed., Li sonetti, canzoni, et triomphi di M. Francesco Petrarcha Historjati. Nuovamente & alla sua integrita ridotti (1542).
3. Giovanni Boccaccio, La Fiammetta (1533)
4. Jacques B. Winslow, Exposition anatomique de la structure du corps humain (1775)
5. Nicolai Stenonis, Elementorum myologiae specimen: seu Musculi descriptio Geometrica. Cui accedunt Canis Carchariae dissectum Caput, et Dissectus piscis ex canum genere (1669)
6. Isaac Newton, Optice: sive de Reflexionibus, Refractionibus, Inflexionibus & Coloribus Lucis (London: 1706). Libri tres.
7. Thomas Martyn, The Universal Conchologist exhibiting the figure of every known shell, accurately drawn and painted after nature ... Figures of nondescript shells collected in the different voyages to the South Sea since the year 1764 (1789).
8. Nicolas Cleynaerts, Tabulae in Grammaticam Hebraeam, auctore Nicolao Clenardo, A Iohanne Isaac nunc recens correctae, & aptiori ordine digestae vnà cum eiusdem & Iohan. Quinquarb. annotationibus. (often shortened to Tabula in grammaticam Hebraeam or Luhôt had-diqdûq). (1567)
Circumstances of Loss:
A radio operator with the 339th Field Artillery Battalion picked up these eight books as a souvenir.
On May 29, 2013, the books were returned to the Republic of Italy at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Discovery and Research
In the early 1940s, while preparing for the coming ground war, the University Library of Naples evacuated its collections from the city. A small quantity of the best items, about 14,000 volumes, were sent to the Church and Convent of San Francesco in Minturno, halfway between Naples and Rome.
The 339th Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 88th Infantry Division, United States Army, discovered this repository at Minturno in late April 1944. The friars who had been watching over the books in their convent had fled when the building was hit by shells and the roof collapsed, leaving the books unattended. Pvt. Irving Tross, a radio operator with the Battalion, picked up these eight books as a souvenir.
Among the 8 volumes (4 dating back to the XVI century, 1 from the XVII century and 3 from the XVIII century), there is a Latin translation of one of Isaac Newton’s works, a Hebrew grammar that had been published in Cologne in 1567, an edition of Boccaccio’s “Fiammetta” of 1533, and a selection of Petrarch’s works of 1542.
Nearly 70 years later, Mr. Tross's daughter, Ellene Shapiro, contacted the Monuments Men Foundation expressing her father's desire to return the eight books to Italy. While Mr. Tross did not know the history of the Minturno repository, he did recall that the crates had been marked "University of Naples." After examining the books and their various library stamps and contacting the University, the Foundation determined that the books Mr. Tross possessed were in fact part of the Library's collection.
On May 9, 2013 the Tross family officially turned over the books to the Monuments Men Foundation at a ceremony at the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago. Italian Consul General Hon. Adriano Monti attended the event. On May 29, 2013, the Foundation formally returned the books to the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to Ambassador of Italy to the United States Claudio Bisogniero and First Counselor Cristiano Maggipinto.
“The recovery of works of art is one of our priorities,” underscored Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero. “Together with the Carabinieri and Interpol," he added, "we have established an excellent cooperative relationship with U.S. authorities, which in recent years, has led to the discovery and the return of numerous works.”
10th Anniversary Celebration
Spearheaded by an idea of Vincenza Iossa, librarian at the Luigi De Gregori Library of the Ministry of Education in Rome and member of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, and made possible by the small but gritty association “Amici del libro” (Friends of the Book), on February 18, 2023 the community of Minturno and some special guests from abroad, gathered in that same Church of San Francesco in Minturno, which eighty years before had been directly in the path of the US liberating forces.
Speakers included Mr. Andrea Paoli, a historian who provided attendees with the historical context of what happened to Italy’s archival collections and libraries during World War II, with emphasis on how they were saved and by whom. Ms. Maria Lucia Siragusa, director of the University Library of Naples, shared her extensive knowledge about the historical significance of the eight volumes and also about the exceptional protective measures implemented by the University Library of Naples during World War II. Ms. Iossa brought the attention to contemporary matters and the challenges faced by libraries today to remain relevant. Foundation president Anna Bottinelli was in attendance and delved into the restitution work of the Foundation.
The guest of honor for the evening was Mr. Jeff Tross, son of Pvt Irving Tross, who with his wife Linda, flew all the way from Salem, Oregon, to honor his father’s memory. Mr. Tross, who carried his father’s dog tags to the event, grew up loving those books, flipping through their pages, admiring their old scripts and illustrations.
In honor of this celebration, movie director Luca Gianfrancesco, in collaboration with the University Library of Naples, realized a beautiful short documentary.
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