The Battle for Our Heritage

It is a well-known fact that the Nazis looted the property of Jews. That is widely known not only because one would expect this from the Nazis, but mainly because the rightful owners or their heirs are claiming them and pursuing their return to their families with passion, knowledge, evidence, and strategy in the courts and elsewhere.

They do not do it only for their monetary value, but because they belong to them. Because they were wronged. Because they are part of their family’s history.

And they do it successfully.

Recently The New York Times addressed a broad issue of universal importance, the issue of the theft of ancient Greek treasures by the Nazis. It was a revealing, shocking article.

The article, reveals specific thefts of ancient artifacts, and it also names Nazi officers who stole them from Crete – objects from Minoan Civilization – and other periods.

“Army officers such as Ringel were not only excavating and looting antiquities for personal wealth but they were also responsible for the destruction of antiquities, in Crete, Macedonia, Tiryns, Assini and Samos,” said Vassilios Petrakos, a scholar who is curator of antiquities and general secretary of the Archeological Society of Athens.

It is clear, then, that a subject ‘buried’ for decades, since 1941 when the Nazis invaded Greece, of enormous national and international dimensions – since these treasures are both a Hellenic and a world heritage – has finally been brought to the surface. It is finally in the open thanks to the work of people like Petrakos and journalists like Milton Esterow.

Recipients of looting – museums and individuals – with relatively few exceptions will do whatever they can to keep them. And the ‘bombshell’ news of the looting of the ancient treasures falling on world public opinion could not have come at a more opportune time – and in fact, it could be a possible ‘force multiplier’ in the battle for the return of the Parthenon Marbles. That issue seems now to becoming ripe for solution, and it can both help and be helped by the issue of the antiquities looted by the Nazis.

And while Elgin stole the Parthenon Marbles more than 200 years before the Nazis, the two thefts have a lot in common. There are common modus operandi.

In addition, it is a happy circumstance that Greece is lucky to have Lina Mendoni at the helm of the Ministry of Culture, without a doubt the best Minister of Culture of our times – a minister who knows the subject as few do, and who will work tirelessly, with passion, dynamism, and strategy to handle these issues.

So we have entered the era of the ‘Battle for our Heritage’ – the return of the Marbles, but also the repatriation of antiquities that were looted relatively recently.


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