The Monuments Men and Women Foundation recently restituted a papal bull issued by Pope Pius IX and turned over custody of the rare document to Italian officials. Odessans Sondra and Toby Eoff generously helped underwrite the restitution costs. The papal bull, an official decree issued by the Vatican, was signed by Pope Pius IX in 1862. It established the Catholic Church of Santo Stefano in Scascoli, located south of Bologna and still in existence today.
During WWII, portions of northern Italy were devastated by bombing and artillery including the church that housed the papal bull. United States Army officer Wolfgang Lehmann—a member of the “Ritchie Boys,” a special group of American soldiers trained at Camp Ritchie in military intelligence—was attached to the 88th Infantry Division when he found the document among the church rubble, picked it up, and took it home to the United States as a souvenir. Following several years of service, Lehmann was honorably discharged from the US Army with the rank of major and began a long and distinguished career in the United States Foreign Service. He and his wife are interred at Arlington National Cemetery. His nephew, Walter Lehmann, reached out to the Monuments Men and Women Foundation to identify the object and coordinate its return to Italy.
“My uncle would have been pleased to know that a document that he rescued from the destruction of war is now on its way back home to the church where he found it 79 years ago,” said Walter Lehmann.
The restitution ceremony was hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute in New York on Tuesday, June 6, the 79th anniversary of the historic “D-Day” landings.
“We were extremely honored to be a part of the return of this papal bull, as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect with the past, both in our Catholic faith and our country’s heroic service during World War II,” Sondra and Toby Eoff said after returning home from the restitution ceremony. “Getting to be part of the collaboration between the Monuments Men and Women Foundation, the soldier’s family and Italian authorities for the return of this papal bull was a deeply moving experience we will never forget.”
“Collaborations are essential to the Foundation’s continued efforts to locate and return works of art and other cultural heritage missing since the end of World War II,” explained Anna Bottinelli, president of the Monuments Men and Women Foundation. “I am grateful to all those who helped us in our research: from Eric Lee and his team at the Kimbell Art Museum, to Lt. Sebastiano Antoci of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and Monsignor Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives. I also want to express my gratitude to Bank of America for a grant that helped fund a portion of the research, and Sondra and Toby Eoff for graciously helping to underwrite the restitution costs.”
If you or someone you know has a work of art or cultural object brought home from Europe that may have been displaced during and after WWII, please call the Monuments Men and Women Foundation on its toll-free tip line: 1-866-WWII-ART, or complete an online submission form at monumentsmenandwomenfnd.org/contact-us. The Foundation and its team of experts respond to every lead.