University of Naples Books

Monuments Men Foundation returns Eight Rare Books to the University of Naples

Claudio Bisogniero, Ambassador of Italy of the United States, and Robert Edsel, President of the Monuments Men Foundation, at the Italian Embassy on May 29, 2013.

In the early 1940s, while preparing for the coming ground war, the University of Naples Library evacuated its collections from the city, just as all of the art museums across Italy had done as well. 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. Luckily this occurred before the retreating Germans burned part of the University of Naples in September 1943.

National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.

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. A news report from April 30, 1944 stated that "In a battered edifice with gaping holes in the roof were 170 separate boxes of priceless books of all ages, undamaged" and worth millions of dollars. Irving Tross, a radio operator with the Battalion, picked up these eight books as a souvenir.

Monuments Man Deane Keller inspected Minturno in May 1944, and Monuments Man Paul Gardner inspected the deposit with the General Inspector of Libraries of Naples in August. Under their direction, the books were first moved to the basement of the convent and the entrance locked. Ultimately the books from the deposit at the Church of San Francesco were returned to the University by December 1945. Losses from 20 crates were reported.

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.

Left: Italian Consul General Adriano Monti with Irving and Shirley Tross at the Pritzker Military Library. Right: The Tross Family at the Pritzker Military Library

The Foundation contacted the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to initiate the return of the books. 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 and made remarks on behalf of the Italian Government. Irving Tross, his wife Shirley, daughter Ellene Shapiro, grandson Joshua Shapiro, son Nathan Tross, his wife Beth and their son Brian also attended.

Book return ceremony at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

On May 29, 2013, the Foundation formally returned the books to the Republic of Italy at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Ambassador of Italy to the United States Claudio Bisogniero and First Counselor Cristiano Maggipinto welcomed Foundation President Robert M. Edsel and other special guests, including Joshua Shapiro representing the Tross family, for a press conference and signing ceremony. Following the event, Ambassador Bisogniero hosted a luncheon at his residence to mark the occasion. The Italian government will now transfer the books back to Italy, where they will once again be a part of the University of Naples Library collection.

University of Naples books, Images and Descriptions

Press Release from the Italian Embassy

GI's Family Returns WWII Antiquities to Italy - USA Today

Veteran Irving Tross discussing the University of Naples Books