Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Regaining one's past

JJ rarely posts book reviews but this one that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Saturday is one of the more poignant ones. Martin Rubin devled into a case where a family's legacy was looted by the Nazis while they were murdered in the Holocaust.  Mr. Rubin writes:

When Simon Goodman’s father died in 1994, he appeared to have left very little to his two sons, then residing in Los Angeles. But when some musty cardboard boxes crammed with yellowing papers—“the last tired remnants of our late father’s estate”—arrived in California soon after, they turned out to be the key to a valuable legacy, as Mr. Goodman tells us in “The Orpheus Clock,” a fascinating family history and memoir.

At the time of his father’s death, Mr. Goodman was living “in what might be called genteel poverty—comfortable enough, but far removed from the circumstances into which we vaguely understood he had been born.” Those boxed-up remnants would lead to the recovery of precious objects, as well as to a surer grasp of his family’s heritage, both splendid and tragic.

Raised in London, Mr. Goodman went on to study in Germany before moving to the United States, where he ended up working in the music business. While growing up, he was told that his father’s parents had “died in the war.” Only later, he tells us, did his Scottish mother “guardedly, reluctantly, reveal that those grandparents, those distant, unvisualized people whom I had never known, had been, more or less, Jewish.” Eventually he learned that they “had also once been enormously wealthy.”

Indeed they had. The family of Mr. Goodman’s father, bearing the name Gutmann, had founded and long been the leading lights of one of Germany’s major financial institutions, the Dresdner Bank. Generation after generation of Gutmanns had flourished in imperial and Weimar Germany, very much a part of the nation’s establishment. They not only amassed great wealth and magnificent artwork and objets d’art but rubbed shoulders with the top echelon of society. All that changed after 1933, when the Nazis seized the bank and the assets of the family members in Berlin.

Mr. Goodman is almost as scathing about his forebears’ complacency as he is about their adversaries. “Ironically,” he writes, “anti-Semites in Germany commonly spouted the most vicious diatribes against Jews in general while assuring their actual Jewish friends and associates, ‘Of course, we don’t mean you!’ Perhaps an equally insidious and fatal corollary was a tendency among some German Jews, particularly the wealthy and well connected, to respond to such anti-Semitism by deluding themselves with the assertion ‘Of course, they don’t mean us!’ ”

But they did, as the Gutmanns in Germany soon learned. As for Mr. Goodman’s paternal grandparents, they had been living in the Netherlands for some time by the time World War II broke out and had become Dutch citizens. In the wake of World War I and the punishing Versailles Treaty, Mr. Goodman explains, the Dresdner Bank “desperately needed a neutral-based affiliate that could channel foreign credit,” and the bank’s managers chose Fritz Gutmann to head it, a man “of unquestioned loyalty and trustworthiness.” In the interwar years, Fritz (Mr. Goodman’s grandfather) established himself as a pillar of Dutch commerce and society, with a townhouse in Amsterdam and a country estate.

Of course, the Netherlands became a precarious place to be after the country fell to the Nazis in 1940. A few years before, the Dutch affiliate of the Dresdner Bank had been “Aryanized” by its German parent and cut its ties with Fritz Gutmann, who went on to form his own company. Even with the German occupation, Fritz may have assumed that he and his wife did not face imminent danger.

In mid-1942, Mr. Goodman tells us, no less a Nazi official than Heinrich Himmler had assured the Dutch ambassador that, “according to your wishes, I have ordered my office at The Hague to leave Gutmann in his house and to exempt him and his wife from any kind of security police measures.” But by May 1943, Fritz and Louise Gutmann felt threatened enough to buy tickets on a train that they thought would be taking them to safety in Italy. (Their son, Bernard—the author’s father—was living in England and out of harm’s way.) The train turned out to be destined for the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic.

At first, the Gutmanns’ status at the camp allowed them to be housed among the “Prominente”—Louise even wore her fur coat—but soon enough they found themselves in the infamous “Little Fortress,” a squalid place of torture and hideous death. They had been “delivered into this hell on earth,” as their grandson puts it. Their sufferings must have been infernal. Certainly their deaths were. Fritz was beaten to death with clubs or garroted with wire (two accounts from fellow prisoners differ on the details). In his pocket was a visa for Italy, signed by Mussolini himself. Louise was transported in a cattle car to Auschwitz, where she was gassed. Meanwhile, the Gutmanns’ property and possessions in the Netherlands were confiscated by the Third Reich.

As Mr. Goodman looked further into his family’s history, he discovered that, after the war, his father had embarked on an effort to reclaim the family’s birthright, but his endeavors met with rebuffs and dead ends, transforming a robust, cheerful young man and all-round athlete into a sad, discouraged and diminished figure. His effort to get back the family’s Dutch estate was met with stonewalling from bureaucrats in liberated Holland. The musty boxes also revealed to Mr. Goodman the doggedness of his father’s quest to reclaim the Gutmann clan’s artworks, running from Old Masters by Frans Hals and Botticelli to Impressionist masterpieces by Degas and Renoir. The family’s peerless silver collection—including an ornate 16th-century clock with depictions from the underworld of classical myth—had also gone missing.

The root of such dispersal and loss was of course the original Nazi looting, but it was followed, as Mr. Goodman shows, by all manner of opportunistic theft. The wrongdoers included unscrupulous collectors, the heads of willfully blind institutions and Allied officials who, though responsible for returning stolen property to its rightful owners after the war, directed it elsewhere.

In addition to unearthing this historical saga, “The Orpheus Clock” describes the efforts of Mr. Goodman and his brother, Nicholas, to take up where their father left off and track down the family’s possessions. They encounter obstruction, denials of responsibility and the understandable if frustrating efforts of art owners to cling to works that they had bought third-hand without investigating the provenance of the art. But the two brothers are nothing if not determined, and by the end of Mr. Goodman’s narrative they have found many of their family’s possessions and, in some cases, negotiated terms of compensation. Mr. Goodman is discreet about the amounts of money involved.

As for the clock itself—an emblem for the whole enterprise of loss and recovery—it had indeed been taken by the Nazis and, after the war, buried near Munich before being “liberated” into the postwar art market. In the early 1960s it was bought by a Swiss collector, who bequeathed it a decade later to a municipal museum in Stuttgart, where Mr. Goodman and his brother eventually find it. They provide the museum officials with their estimate of what the clock is worth today—that is, their sense of what a fair compensation would be—and the sum is close to what the officials themselves have decided upon.

When the transaction is completed, the museum director and his legal counsel tell the Goodmans: “We . . . regret what happened to your family. . . . We are grateful for the opportunity, however, to set, at least this matter straight.” That phrase “at least” echoes down the decades. It reminds us that, for all the satisfaction of reclaiming objects, nothing can compensate for the human suffering, the lives snuffed out. Mr. Goodman’s response to this episode and to the many others is unfailingly gracious. Despite the horrors he has uncovered, he puts a positive spin on his experience, proclaiming: “I no longer suffer from an isolation of rootlessness.” Article.

Kingfish note: It has been really interesting to see headline after headline announcing new restrictions on Jews in Germany while digging through old issues of the Jackson Daily News.  I've thought about collecting them and posting them up here. 


Anonymous said...

Wish we had pictures of these items. Fascinating story.

pittpanther said...

Jews whose ancestors were impacted by the holocaust get their possessions, or equivalent compensation. But let black people ask for compensation for the forced free labor of their ancestors, and everyone is up in arms.

Anonymous said...

@12:16 Provide a list of what your forefathers lost as the people in the book did, and I would be for it. Otherwise, no dice!

Anonymous said...

Jews whose ancestors were impacted by the holocaust get their possessions, or equivalent compensation.

What in the world are you talking about?

Anonymous said...

Really 12:16? So, descendants who spend their own time and effort, tracking down actual, provable possessions and there current locations and have absolute proof are the equivalent of saying...."I'm black, so pay me bc one of my ancestors may or may not have been a slave." You're an idiot. I tell you what, go back and find out which tribe rounded up your ancestors (or whoever's) and sold them to which white man (most likely not an American) and then we can talk. Of course, I doubt very much that there were any monetary possessions or works of art included in there. Hell, I'll even pay myself. What do I owe...a few piles of dung and some sticks to make a hut?

Fascinating and wonderful story Fish. Unfortunately, morons like the above, Jew hating free presser feel the need to vomit hate upon it. It is sad that they can't see the beauty and justice of this. Nobody is as full of hate as a peace loving liberal. I pity them.

Anonymous said...

Might as well jump on the bandwagon. How about payback for the property, land livestock, that my white non slave owning great grandparents lost to carpetbaggers and the reconstruction government after the civil war. Jewish families property was stolen and families murdered. Very few have recovered property. They sucked it up and through hard work created a new life just like my great grandparents and in a more current context the people black and white on the gulf coast did and are doing after Katrina.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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