Histories of the war
Julius Schlegel - saviour of Montecassino´s art treasures
Today, widely visible the Abbey Montecassino impressively shines again reminding of many epochs of history. During the war centuries-old bronze utensils and statues, one of the most valuable painting collections of the world were hidden behind the walls of the today rebuilt Abbey. Amongst them works of Brueghels, drawings and watercolours of Italian artists, a millennial library with over more than 70.000 books with their relative 1200 handwritten historic documents. That this unique art treasure remained to the posterity and was not destroyed in the heaviest bombing on one single building, can be thanked to one man only and his loyally devoted troop: Lieutenant colonel Julius Schlegel of the “Plate Division Hermann Göring”. Julius Schlegel born in Vienna recognized early that the Abbey Montecassino would not survive the attack waves of the expected allied troops without damage. Not only did he act without having gotten the command, but also completely on his own the wish became generally accepted by the deserved officer, to rescue the famous art treasures of the Abbey. Being supported of staff medical Maximilian J. Becker and staff medical Dr. M. Becker, Schlegel organized a rescue action of significant dimension after intensive diplomatic negotiations with the Abbey´s leadership. Because of his courage and his art comprehension the immeasurably valuable objects of art could be transported with German lorries, Julius Schlegel escorted by German troops, to Rome and could be commissioned behind the save walls of the Vatican. Withstanding all adverseness, in the last second the Montecassino´s art treasure was brought to secure place. On 11 January 1944 although no German soldiers were ultimately in the Abbey, the first grenades hit the ancient walls. Major Bradford A. Evans got the attack command No. 341 from lieutenant general Sir Bernhard Freyberg on 15th February. Above the Abbey Montecassino the 96th US- bomber squadron (epithet Red Devils) opened the gates to hell. The bombing of the “B-17 Flying Fortress” bombers lasted several days and was hell fire on earth. It destroyed the oldest Benedictine Abbey of the world completely. Until today not only clerical leaders feel grace to the courageous saviour of the great cultural inheritance.