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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
09/15/2010

Art and antiquity taken during World War II returned to their towns

18th-century manuscript returned to Italian town; 11 artworks welcomed back to Germany

18th century manuscript
18th century manuscript
18th century manuscript

VENAFRO, Italy - An 18th century leather-bound, hand-written manuscript, missing since 1943, was returned on Wednesday to the small Italian town whose history it recorded. In Germany, 11 paintings were returned to the Municipal Museum of Pirmasens that had also been taken by a U.S. serviceman during the occupation of that town during the Allied invasion. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigated both cases and facilitated the return of the items.

On Sept. 9 in Pirmasens, Germany, U.S. Ambassador Philip D. Murphy returned to the Lord Mayor of Pirmasens, Dr. Bernhard Matheis, three paintings by the local artist Heinrich Buerkel, seven portraits of family members of Ludwig IX and a painting by Alois Broch that had disappeared from the museum's hiding place in April 1945. On hand to see the painting returned to their rightful owner were Beth Ann McFadden, a grand niece of the former U.S, Serviceman who had inherited some of the paintings. Also present was Bonnie Goldblatt, the ICE agent who tracked down other Pirmasens paintings and arranged for all of them to be repatriated to the German town.

A ceremony was held on Sept. 15 at Pandone Castel in Venafro, Italy, as U.S. officials returned the manuscript to the town of Venafro. The manuscript, "Domain and Baronage in the City of Venafro," written by Giovanni Antonio Monachetti, dates to 1710. It had been in the possession of the Des Moines Art Center of Iowa, since 1995, when it was donated to the center by the estate of a former U.S. serviceman who had served in Italy during World War II.

Historical sources document that in November 1943, during World War II, as a time when Allied troops occupied the town, numerous artifacts were stolen from the Library of Venafro, including the manuscript returned on Sept. 15.

In 2009, Amy Worthen, curator of the Des Moines Art Center, and her staff conducted research on the manuscript that led them to contact the Italian Consulate in the United States. Further research conducted by the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and confirmed by Prof. Giacomo Gargano, director of the Venafro Library, verified in November 2009 the authenticity and of "Domain and Baronage in the City of Venafro" and its ownership by the town.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for investigating the stolen artwork and antiquities into the United States, arranged the formal seizure and subsequent administrative forfeiture that allowed for the return of the manuscript to the Republic of Italy. ICE resident in charge, Des Moines, and special agent in charge, New York, arranged for its transport to Italy. ICE Attaché Rome facilitated the repatriation of the document to the Venafro City Library.