Monday, October 15, 2007

Rare Manuscripts Prompt Diplomatic Spat

The Chicago Tribune reports on a decades-long international dispute over rare books, manuscripts and collections currently held by Krakow's Jagiellonian Library. The materials - which include letters written by Martin Luther and George Washington; original music manuscripts by Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart; and other important documents - were moved out of Berlin at the beginning of World War II and hidden in Poland to prevent their destruction by Allied bombs ... and now the Germans want them back.

"Poland insists Germany forfeited any legal and moral claim to the collection long ago. Polish President Lech Kaczynski bluntly told the Tribune last month that the collection would not be returned." Since 1977 (when it first admitted having the collection), Poland has returned several key items, including Martin Luther's Bible and the manuscript copy of the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Negotiations over the return of other items have been ongoing since 2000, but, the Trib report notes, "now with the highly nationalistic Kaczynski brothers in power [in Poland] - Lech is president, twin brother Jaroslaw is prime minister - the talks appear to be dead in the water." German rhetoric hasn't helped: "Tono Eitel, a veteran German diplomat who is handling the negotiations for his country, described the manuscripts as 'the war's last prisoners,' while an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper referred to the collection as beutekunst, a term usually used to describe the artworks looted from Germany by the Red Army. This infuriated the Poles."

[h/t Shelf:Life]