ROME (Aug. 5)
Italy has handed over to the Italian Jewish community valuables plundered by the Nazis during World War II.
“The bags don’t contain treasures, but behind them there are destroyed families, deportations and human suffering,” Treasury Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said Monday during the ceremony marking the return of the items.
He called the bags “a treasure of memory and a warning to never forget.”
The return of the property was triggered by a law passed by Parliament last month.
Italy’s action represents an unusually quick response to the issue of Nazi- looted property, which has flared up across Europe in the past year.
The five sacks of valuables, which were discovered in a Treasury vault earlier this year, contain jewelry, precious stones, watches, coins, silver cutlery and other objects, personal items, gold and even gold teeth that were looted from Jews at the Nazi death camp of San Saba near Trieste.
“These are poor little personal effects, torn from people on their way to a horrible fate,” Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said after formally accepting the sacks from Ciampi.
The Union will hand the property over to the Jewish community of Trieste, on the Adriatic coast of northern Italy.
The Nazis occupied Trieste in September 1943, and many local Jews were murdered in San Saba, the only Nazi death camp on Italian soil.
Claims for Holocaust compensation by the Trieste Jewish community, backed by a campaign last January in the local Trieste newspaper, prompted a government official in the city to open an investigation into what had happened to the possessions of Trieste-area Jews who had been sent to San Saba.
A Treasury Ministry commission established that the goods had belonged to Jews killed or interned in San Saba.
The investigation revealed that the plundered treasure was taken by the retreating Germans to Austria at the end of the war.
After the war, it was brought back to Trieste by the Allies, but only a small fraction was claimed by surviving Jews.
The rest was deposited in a Trieste bank vault and was sent to the Treasury in Rome for safekeeping in 1962.