In 1914, shortly after Germany invaded neutral Belgium, the German authorities exacted revenge for the shooting of several of their soldiers on patrol in Louvain. They executed more than 200 civilians, then methodically set fire to homes and to the University of Louvain’s library. About 250,000 books went up in flames, including 800 that had been printed before the year 1500. Rebuilt and lavishly restocked between the wars, the library once again went up in flames in May 1940, the result of German shelling in World War II. This time, 900,000 books were reduced to ashes, 200,000 of which had been donated by Germany under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
Wars routinely destroy not just lives but cultural treasures. Yet Robert M. Edsel of Dallas keeps demonstrating that, for all its horrors and destruction, World War II included unprecedented efforts to preserve Europe’s artistic masterpieces as the Allies retook the continent.
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Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis
Robert M. Edsel