Robert Edsel's Blog

Archive for August, 2013

The Monuments Men movie poster is out!

August 23rd, 2013 | 2:51 pm

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70th Anniversary of the Near Destruction of ‘The Last Supper’

August 15th, 2013 | 10:12 am

Earlier this summer I sat down with my friend Nick Mueller, President and CEO of the National WWII Museum, and discussed measures taken to preserve works of art in Italy during the war, including the precautions that ultimately saved ‘The Last Supper’ in Milan from destruction during the August 15/16, 1943 raid.

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70th Anniversary of the near destruction of ‘The Last Supper’

August 15th, 2013 | 9:43 am

 Today marks the 70th Anniversary of the August 15-16, 1943 raid on Milan which nearly destroyed Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece ‘The Last Supper’.  I describe this remarkable event in great detail in my new book Saving Italy; you can read an excerpt here:

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Bombing of Milan

August 8th, 2013 | 6:00 am

(Light filters through the shattered 19th century glass-vaults of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan after the air raids of August 1943. Photo from Rosa Auletta Marrucci, ed., Bombe sulla città: Milano in guerra 1942–1944 (Milan: Skira, 2004).)

Seventy years ago today, the bombing of Milan began in earnest. Until spring of 1942, WW2 bombing of Italian and European cities had mostly consisted of daily incursions aimed at military targets. When sir Arthur Harris was put in charge of the British Bomber Command, in February 1942, area bombing became the new normal practice. It consisted of multiple raids, which were carried out at night and the objectives were oftentimes highly populated areas. These raids were inevitably less precise than the day attacks and unsurprisingly killed many more innocent victims.

As one Italian newspaper reported, on August 18th, 1943: “the frequent and intense bombing by the Anglo-American aviation on the Italian territory, with the subsequent destruction of the cities and the massacre of helpless population, goes way beyond the normal practice of war. For our enemies, it is no longer about the pursuing of military targets…their purpose is obviously a terrorist one.” (Saving Italy, 39)

By Summer 1943, the British Bomber Command had started to plague Italian towns. Those dangerous nights with a full moon and cloudless sky were called “notti da inglesi” (British nights). On August 8th, 1943 at 00:52 the first of many consecutive air raid sirens broke the silence of the night in Milan.  197 Lancasters left the British base, most of them directed towards Milan.  Some records report that 161 people were killed, 281 were injured.

Two of the survivors have recently entrusted the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera with some of their memories of those dramatic days.  Lamberto Caimi, now 82 years old, was just a boy back in 1943. He still remembers the fast runs to the air raid shelters every time the sirens went off, and the fear of being buried alive. The situation in Milan was miserable; the black market existed only for “those who had the money.” Everyone else was seen gathering branches and grass from neighboring parks to warm themselves up with some improvised fires.  Sergio Udine, now 87 years old, recalls standing on the roofs of the buildings tirelessly removing fragments of incendiary bombs. “I would get off of the roofs only to help the older ones removing corpses”, Udine says.

The raid of August 8th, 1943 was the first, yet not the last, time that historical buildings of Milan were badly damaged. More bombing followed on the nights of August 13th, 14th and 15th. The Duomo, the Castello Sforzesco, the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Palazzo Reale, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Teatro alla Scala were just a few of the many buildings that suffered horrible scars of war. What was left after Summer 1943 was a destroyed city and a shocked population.

Ten years ago, Caimi created the film Desmentegass. Molti non ricordano on the witnessed of the Milan bombing. With the approaching of the 70th anniversary, he attempted once again to find somebody interested in a new production to “keep alive the memory, to leave it as an inheritance … to the new generations.” This time, however, he found almost no support at all; only four students from the School of Cinema said they might make a short film in 2014. “The number of survivors like me drops season after season” Caimi remarks, “but you see, who did not live the bombs, will never be able to understand.”



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