As we remember and pay honor to the six million Martyrs (precious men, women & children) on Yom Hashoah 5774, I recall an article I recently read in the New York Times, and subsequently heard about on many News stations including JLTV, about how the Vienna Philharmonic is finally returning a painting back to its rightful owners after it was hidden away in storage for decades. The painting is the 1883 seascape by Paul Signac, which was given to the Vienna Philharmonic by a German Nazi official. This is just one of many gifts the Nazi party gave to the Philharmonic during the Nazi era. The article explained how the work, “Port-en-Bessin” was stolen by a German military official from a well-known figure of the French Resistance and was given to the Orchestra as gratitude for their performances for German soldiers in France in 1940. After 74 years, the orchestra now says that it has tracked down its owners heir’s and will be notifying them very soon.
During the period of Hitler’s regime, the Vienna Philharmonic expelled its Jewish members and in essence served the Nazi party as a vehicle for the party’s propaganda. The article went on to explain that although the orchestra has been commended for its efforts of recent decades for exposing their activities during Hitler’s regime, it was not until just last year that a greater accounting of its wartime undertakings and Nazi support came about after a public outcry drove the Philharmonic to open its records to outside historians and that is when the orchestra began to search for the actual owner of this painting.
In the article, Marc Masurovsky, Historian and co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, was quoted saying “It’s always the same story…We didn’t know. We didn’t know where to look. What to do?’ How many times do intelligent people have to act like simpletons, especially in a country like Austria, where so much loot from France was laundered and which produced so many agents of cultural plunder?”
I too find their excuses of obliviousness & ignorance blatant lies and simply unacceptable. It seems that too many have said and continue to say “We didn’t know what was going on…we didn’t realize there were death camps”. It’s impossible that so many didn’t realize what was happening. Jews were being dragged on to trains from every corner of every city & town in Europe. When Kristallnacht occurred, it took place right in the middle of the streets for all to see. Enough with the excuses of “we didn’t know”.
When I read this article, I found myself looking for more information about the Nazi looting and I came across a CBC article in which I learned that the heirs of Max Stern, are officially reclaiming a painting (The Wilhelm Schadow self-portrait), which is the 12th Nazi-looted painting restored to the German-Canadian art dealer’s estate. The article explained how this painting is “one of more than 400 paintings the Nazis either confiscated or forced Stern— the son of a prestigious art dealer and a well-known art historian, dealer and collector himself “,to sell at greatly reduced prices during this era. Stern fled Germany and eventually settled in Canada in the 1940s. Max Stern is remembered as an icon in the art society across the world. He helped elevate the level of art appreciation in Canada. He donated many works to several museums & institutions across Canada, especially in Montreal. He received many awards for his contributions including an honorary doctorate from Concordia University in 1985. An art restitution project was started in his name. The Max Stern Art Restitution Project was jointly created by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, McGill University, Concordia University and the Holocaust Claims Processing Office in New York. The project’s mission has been to locate and recover works from the original Stern collection that were lost during the 1930s. So far, less than twenty of the 400 pieces of Stern’s collection have been recovered. Their goal continues; to recover and reclaim all of what Stern lost under the Nazi regime.
This reminds me of a movie that was recently in the theatres called “THE MONUMENTS MEN”. In 1943 during WWII, while the allies are progressing, a group of men are assembled in an Army unit nicknamed the “Monuments Men” including museum directors, curators and historians, to help guide and search for art stolen by the Nazis, to return to their rightful owners.
Perhaps you have already seen the advertisements for a film that is just coming out now called “WALKING WITH THE ENEMY” starring Ben Kingsley and other fine actors. It has been advertised in The Jewish Week as well as other publications. From what I have read and heard, it is about a Rabbi’s son, Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum, from a small town called Kisvárda, who during the Nazi occupation in Hungary in 1944, he and a group of resistance fighters, were able to outsmart the Germans and save thousands of Jews from deportation and extermination. It is a complex and riveting story. I will be going to see the movie. If you want to join me, let me know.
Let us NEVER FORGET and let us NOT ALLOW OTHERS TO FORGET!
See you in Shul.
Cantor Sol Zim