Sunday, December 28, 2008
Limmud UK 2008: Reflecting on "Truth" and the Holocaust
I am sitting here in the cafe after a busy day of teaching and attending sessions at Limmud 08. It is once again an effort that never fails to impress.
But rather than sing the general praises of the event, I want to reflect on a film, Stealing Klimt I saw today about the Klimt paintings that were confiscated by the Nazis, then -- after the war -- "stolen" by the Austrian government, and finally, due to the assiduous work of the owner's niece recovered by the family.
I must admit when people first began to try to recover their property, bank accounts, and artwork I was a bit discomforted. It was wrong of me to feel that way but I admit to it. As all the attention was focused on material goods it seemed that the tragic loss of life was being overshadowed by the loss of property.
[On some level I had internalized antisemitic charges and was responding to that. But more of that on another occasion.]
One day -- I don't remember what brought about the change -- I recognized I was dead wrong.
Heck, this belonged to those families, why shouldn't they get it back? There's nothing wrong and everything right with their saying: this is mine. It was stolen from me and I want it.
This film relates the unbelievable story of how one woman together with a dedicated lawyer pursued these unbelievable paintings.
More importantly it tells the story of the lowly Austrians who, after decades of successfully claiming that they were Hitler's first victims [and I have a bridge to sell you], were exposed for the culprits that they were.
Not only did they welcome the Nazis with outraised arms, join the SS in droves, and plunder Jews in their midst, but afterwards they claimed Jewish property as their own. If you wanted to get a portion of your property back you had to sign over the rest of it over to the Austrians.
Then they spent decades fighting people trying to get their property back. They lied. They were lowlifes. And they continued to behave that way in relation to this family.
The story is unbelievable and it is factual. It is also well told. The writer is Martin Smith who was responsible for much of the design of the exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
After a couple of days of being caught up in the morass of Holocaust liars [see under Rosenblatt and Salomon], it's nice to see the truth portrayed so well.
And it's wonderful to be here at Limmud.