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Alessandro Olschki ( 1925-2011 )

Alessandro Olschki was born in Florence in 1925 to a Catholic mother and Jewish father. With the advent of Fascism, he had to endure offences and discrimination caused by the Fascist regime. His name is usually associated with the popular publishing house “Leo S. Olschki”, but in truth, he lived a parallel life “under water” thanks to his great passion for scuba diving. The Florentine publishing house was founded in 1897 and specializes in non-fiction, humanistic and general knowledge books. Olschki managed the company as a third-generation member of the Olschki family.

In the spring of 1945, Olschki volunteered to assist U.S. Fifth Army’s Allied Military Government and became a driver and interpreter for Monuments Man Lt. Frederick Hartt. Hartt was tasked with surveying and protecting Region VII (Tuscany). Olschki drove Hartt’s jeep, nicknamed “Lucky 13,” on numerous inspection trips. In summarizing his duties, Olschki wrote, “The daily task was to drive all over Tuscany and to report on the state of works of art: churches, frescoes, towers, virtually everything that might have suffered damage during the war and that often needed urgent intervention; particularly roofs that had come off. Thus I lived through magical months, visiting famous places like San Miniato al Monte and Caprese Michelangelo as well as forgotten sites in the Tuscan landscape, all full of history and civilization.”

Olschki accompanied Lt. Hartt to the Alto Adige area, where German forces had hidden more than 700 of the most important masterpieces from Florence. Weeks later, while Monuments Man Capt. Deane Keller coordinated the packing and transport arrangements to return the works of art to Florence, Olschki drove Hartt back to the Tuscan capitol to make arrangements for their arrival.

On July 22, 1945, a convoy of six American trucks, filled with dozens of priceless paintings and sculpture, entered Piazza della Signoria to the thunderous applause of thousands of Florentines bearing witness to the return of the city’s patrimony. Leading the convoy was “Lucky 13,” driven by Olschki, with Lt. Hartt and Giovanni Poggi, Superintendent of Galleries of Florence, on board.

On Friday, March 5, 1993, when the city of Florence welcomed the urn containing the ashes of Lt. Frederick Hartt for burial at the cemetery of the Church of San Miniato al Monte, both of Hartt’s wartime drivers, Franco Ruggenini and Alessandro Olschki, were present to honor him.

Olschki wrote about his experiences with the MFAA in an article entitled “Il recupero delle opera d’arte rubate dale truppe tedesche durante la guerra,” I ‘Fochi’ della San Giovanni, III, 2008.

Alessandro Olschki died in Florence on February 3, 2011.