NEWS

They came, they saw, they took: Occupiers proved light-fingered

«Educated German soldiers, according to a study by the Eleusis Museum at Elefsina, decided upon and executed a robbery… They broke the window of the storehouse next to the museum and abstracted vessels and figurines therefrom. On being espied, they fled on a motorcycle. The excuse given [for their behavior] by the German service for the protection of artworks was also indescribably insolent, as a document of the same service, dated February 27, 1942 says: ‘The case in question should not be regarded as theft for the enrichment of the perpetrators. This can be deduced from the fact that educated people are involved, who are interested in Greek antiquity. It follows that the perpetrators must obviously have had the intention of acquiring, in this manner, a souvenir.’» The extract is from the report «Damage to Antiquities Caused by the War and the Armies of Occupation,» published in 1946 by the Directorate of Antiquities and Historical Monuments of the Education and Religious Affairs Ministry. From its numerous pages, certain incidents leap out: The burglary of the Thebes Archaeological Museum on April 29, 1941 was both extensive and blatant, with many ancient artifacts disappearing and considerable damage done to others. The report records the stolen items in analytical detail: «From the Museum: Lower Floor: From Archive No. 41, pieces of frescoes were taken… Upper Floor: from display cases 15, 20 and 21, some clay vessels and figurines were taken. From the storeroom: Thirty kylixes… and vessel sections. From the ephorate: Over 15 objects.» In Voula, the Germans found antiquities that they did not hand over to the Greek archaeological service. Antiquities discovered at Vari were turned over to the German Archaeological Institute. The archaeological collection of Koropi was stolen and scattered by the Italians, as was the one at Keratea. German archaeologist Gabriel Welter is accused of whisking off from Aegina, in August or September of 1941, four or five full boxes of antiquities. In Larissa, the German military administrator asked for, and received, from the then-«prefect,» a statue of Athena 0.70 meters in height. In excavations in the same town, engineer Baurat Kuthe managed to hold onto at least one gold cross. On Milos, during fortification works around the prehistoric town of Fylakopi, some 20 untouched graves were found, rich in stone and clay funeral gifts. They were all taken by Captain Vollnhals Rudolf, who donated them on his latest visit to Milos. From Kastelli Kissamou in western Crete, the Germans removed a number of objects over the period between July 31 and November 30, 1943. The report records them faithfully. In Ierapetra, Italian soldiers camped in the town’s museum, with the result that at least 100 objects were stolen or destroyed (amphorae, Greek vessels, Roman lamps and a bronze double ax). In Patras, the Italian consul Alberto Toger abstracted the Craw collection, which consisted of a breastplate from Olympia, a metal helmet, 96 clay pieces, a mounted horseman and many other metal objects. In Volos, Italians took Byzantine marble reliefs form the church of the Dormition of the Virgin. In Serres, at least 30 objects were abstracted from the Prodromou Monastery in August, 1942. In Vergina, the Germans carried out excavations of four to six tombs, without informing the Greek archaeological authorities and without handing over any finds they may have unearthed. In Elefsina, the Germans broke and collected antiquities from around the ancient aqueduct, which they turned into refuge. The medieval castle of Orchomenos was bombed. In August 1944, the Germans blew up the Katafygiou Monastery or Koumasion (built during the Ottoman era), which contained many valuable objects. The 1946 report gives this overall appraisal of German practice: «Although they had promised to adhere to Greek laws on antiquities, and thus the Greeks bore the responsibility for ancient artifacts, they carried out, notwithstanding Greek law and their own promises, excavations, which they excused by the insolent assertion that the occupation forces were those in power. What the excavations produced was beyond the control (of the Greeks). […] German archaeologists’ behavior… toward their Greek colleagues was indescribable. Not only were their words and works offensive in a number of ways, but they spoke to them as though they were slaves.» Kathimerini would like to thank Venetia Kantzia, who supplied the reports and who labors for the salvation of the cultural heritage.