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How World War II artifacts stolen from Japan found their way into an attic in Massachusetts

The family in Massachusetts did their research and immediately reached out to the FBI so the stolen treasure could be returned to its rightful place.

How World War II artifacts stolen from Japan found their way into an attic in Massachusetts
Cover Image Source: YouTube | FBI

A family from Massachusetts stumbled upon a collection of very valuable Asian art while going through their grandfather's old personal belongings. The FBI Art Crimes Unit from the Boston Field Office was alerted by the family in January 2023 as per Good News Network. The family shared that the grandfather had a connection to World War II and was a veteran but never served in the Pacific Theater. “There were some scrolls, there were some pottery pieces, there was an ancient map,” Special Agent Geoffrey J. Kelly, the art coordinator for the Boston Office said in a statement. According to the officer, the family did some research on their own and came to know that the scrolls had been added to the FBI's stolen art file at least 20 years ago.


These 22 pieces of art were an important part of Japanese history. As per Art News, the 22 pieces included six painted scrolls from the 18th and 19th centuries, a 19th-century hand-drawn map of Okinawa, and pieces of pottery and ceramics. The outlet shared that these artifacts were stolen during the last days of the war, when the treasures and documents of the Ryukyu kingdom (1429-1879) were taken during the Battle of Okinawa. The battle that happened from April 1 to June 22, 1945, is considered to be one of the deadliest. Okinawa is also the largest of the Ryukyu islands and is located 350 miles from mainland Japan. The objects were returned to the Okinawa prefecture in Japan by the FBI. The governor, Denny Tamaki, received them in an official ceremony as per the source. The FBI first transported the artifacts to the Smithsonian Institution where these were unfurled for the first time in years. The scrolls had vivid pictures of Japanese royalty in shades of red, gold, and blue. 

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“A nation’s cultural identity is really summed up in the artifacts and the history,” expressed Kelly. “This is what makes a culture. And without it, you’re taking away their history. And the surest way to eliminate a culture is to eliminate their past," he added. “And so, it’s really important for us as stewards of artifacts and cultural patrimony to make every effort that we can see that these go back to the civilizations and the cultures in the countries where they belong." He further said, "So I think one of the biggest takeaways from this entire investigation is the fact that in this case, the family did the right thing. They had some questionable artifacts that they thought might not belong here in this country. They checked the National Stolen Art File. And when they realized that it may, in fact, have been looted cultural property, they did what they should have done, which is called the FBI." 


“We’re not looking to put people in jail because they happened to inherit some objects that have some questionable or dubious provenance. We’re here to help make sure at the end of the day it goes back to its rightful owner,” the special agent said, appreciating the family. The agent expressed that a large number of Okinawan treasures stolen during World War ll are still waiting to be returned and people should take this family's story as an example of what they should do if they find something that doesn't belong in their attic.

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