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Fumes Fuhrer, ‘The British would never have done anything so stupid’ as to leave artifacts with Greeks

The marble lion that adorned the fortress on the island of Kythera – which was not Venetian, but an ancient object probably from the ancient city of Scandia – went through a singularly strange adventure. On June 6, 1941, the German governor had the lion taken down and sent to Germany. As historian Hagen Fleischer told Kathimerini, during the collapse of Nazi Germany, the lion was found dumped in an eastern German city. After the end of the war, the locals said it was from some Aegean island, but did not know which. Photographs of the uprooted lion reached Pergamos, where a German professor recognized the stolen beast as Kythera’s. The demand for its return was ready for the printing press, but there was a slight problem. The post-civil war Greek state did not have diplomatic relations with the German Democratic Republic, where the lion had been found. The East Germans, however, as a sign of good will, sent it back anyway. Not so fortunate was the statue of a female divinity of the Hellenistic period, which was discovered in Macedonia in 1944, though everyone started out with the best intentions. The statue was unearthed by chance during digging for trenches and the German administration – in an attempt to pacify the Greeks – decided to turn it over to the Greek archaeological service. Indeed, the handover was made amid many statements about «respect» for the Greeks and their history. The case was grist to the Nazi propaganda mill and was triumphantly published on the first page of the Nazi party paper, the Volkischer Beobachter. That is where the problems started, said Fleischer. On seeing the news, Hitler was outraged. The British would never have done anything so stupid, he fumed, and demanded that the statue be seized forthwith. The German archaeologists in Greece, already exposed by the handover of the statue, tried to downplay its importance, saying that it belonged to the Hellenistic period, when decline had set in. The Fuhrer would hear none of this. The upshot of the whole affair was that the statue was seized and transferred to a mine in Austria, where it would be protected from bombing, along with other important Nazi art possessions.