Last Tuesday evening – mainly to escape the heat – Jorge and I went to the Altabrisa Mall. We looked at the shops, ate a delicious Dolphy ice cream cone, and then meandered over to the Cineplex. The Woman in Gold was about to start and so we bought tickets, climbed up to “Row J”, and plunked down in our seats. Now, four days later, I just can’t stop thinking about that film.
The British-American drama starring Helen Mirren is based on the real-life story of the late Maria Altmann, an Austrian-born Jewish woman, from a wealthy, artistic family. In 1939, the Nazis barged into their Vienna home and confiscated fine paintings, jewelry, crystal, furniture, and even her father’s Stradavarius cello. The entire family was then put under house arrest.
Maria and her husband knew that the Nazis would not allow them to remain at home for long. Her elderly parents insisted on staying behind when the young couple fled. They made their way to California and eventually settled close to Maria’s sister who had moved there some time earlier. The two young women grieved terribly when they learned that their mother and father had been murdered at the Treblinka death camp.
They buried their pain, but decades later, after her husband and sister’s deaths, Maria found documents that seemed to prove she was the rightful owner of Guztav Klimt’s, The Woman in Gold.
Her Aunt Adele had been the model for the portrait, often called, “the Mona Lisa of Austria”. Since the end of the war, it had graced a central gallery of the Belvedere Museum in Vienna. When new laws opened the previously sealed records of provenance, Maria’s suppressed hurt and outrage could not be held in check any longer. With the help of a young lawyer – whose grandparents had also been killed at Treblinka – a legal battle against the government of Austria ensued.
The Woman in Gold tells the story of their fight for retribution. But for me, the film was really about families who were forcefully separated during WWII. They never overcame the pain. Those who lost parents, siblings, aunts and uncles to the “Final Solution” still thirst for justice.
I can relate. My aunt hid her Jewish friends throughout the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. My father and five of my uncles fought for six years with the Canadian Armed Forces in Europe. It is a miracle that they all lived through the horror.
As The Woman in Gold points out, that war scarred my parent’s generation in ways they could never talk about. And worse yet, it seems to me our planet is in an even more dire situation than before the conflict.
Writing From Merida has been reviewed as “an entertaining regional blog”. No one reads it looking for solutions to world peace.
Yet, in Merida, there are those who tutor students in need of help with English homework, rescue stray animals, knit hats for kids with cancer, cook meals at a shelter, wash hair and polish nails at a nursing home, and hold children who have no parents to love them. These acts of kindness are not written up in the newspaper – they don’t seem grand enough to change the course of our society.
However, I believe if everyone spent some of their time this way, a more generous mindset would grow and contribute to positive change. Some people would move on to larger causes, become activists and speak out. And it would snowball from there.
Am I idealistic? Definitely. But “every journey begins with a first step.” I hope a few readers will remember this post when a stranger on the sidewalk begs a few coins – a waiter serves your table – a strolling guitar player looks hopefully in your direction – a young man juggles plastic balls at an intersection – or an older gentleman packs your bags at the grocery store.