In the hunt for the lost books of the Rome Synagogue Library, I notice that the lead Italian investigator is following the trail into Russia. The report uses the euphemism “sort of trophy art” when it introduces the concept of Trophy Brigades which were actual units of Soviet troops. The US (and Allies) has its Monuments Men, now receiving pleasant attention from the movie The Rape of Europa and Robert Edsel’s passionate support for them: http://www.robertedselblog.com/index.php/2006/06/21/finding-the-monuments-men-a-progress-report. Now the Russsians introduced their own artistic-types who had a singular mission as well. This was to retrieve precious spoils of war from the European Theatre as revenge and replenishment for the utter spoliation of cultural treasures destroyed by the Nazis.
Seems that the Monuments Men and the Trophy Brigades were in direct competition, but God knows there was enough buried treasure in the region to go around. But it is troubling to learn that the highest ranking Monument Man (see Monument Man Gone Wrong in this blog) in Germany was found to have given the Soviets advance coordinates of two Berlin Towers where a huge stash of paintings were located. But maybe he thought the Soviets would hand it over to the MMFA’s Collection Point. Or maybe he was working for them.
Although the MMFA was originally set up to be a shared program between the US and British, records show that there was tremendous friction between the Allies in this division. Indeed, there were two controlling MMFA headquarters on the continent in 1944; that of the Communications Zone in Paris, usually called "Com Z", and that of the Supreme Headquarters Allies Expeditionary Force, 18 miles away in Versailles, customarily shorted to SHAEF. As Stratton Hammond, then US ranking operations officer for the MMF&A in France would later query, “who was running the show?".
It is astounding how he concluded that the very Officers performing inside the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the European Civil Affairs Division, were unaware that a condition existed in that outfit whereby the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. Furthermore, since the US army was comparatively stingy about promotions (and the British overly generous) Hammond recalls that the British at SHAEF-MMF&A were soon running almost everything since they outrank our men. Criticism of the situation was recorded in a letter and brought to the attention of the War Department. Although changes were forthcoming, the letter left out (Hammond explains this as politically correct at the time) the most damning complaint the Americans were voicing specifically the British Intelligence interception of the mail of the MMF&A-SHAEF Officers and the suspicion of black market involvement. Now back to this case: It may be that the Library contents were scooped up into Russia at the war’s end. So first the Nazis stole it and later the Russians. This “twice stolen” loot is hidden from public view but must also contain other hoards Jewish-owned valuables and art that was confiscated before the annihilation of the communities took place.
But what if the Library is found? Do the Russians agree to return it to the Jewish Community of Rome or does it stay in Russian territory to be kept as “Trophy Art”? When it comes to communal assets like these, it isn’t hard to see the wrongfulness of withholding restitution. The politicians will ultimately decide.
Overall, the Russian stance on returning spoils of war to former individual Jewish owners, on paper, seems reasonable. Unfortunately, in the real world, with the dying off of Holocaust survivors, the lack of documentation, and the databases for research promised but undelivered – that hope has faded. http://www.ilvelino.it/articolo.php?Id=367242#367242