Woman in Gold

woman in gold

Restitution claims resulting in the Nazi seizure of artwork, jewelry, money, furniture, etc., are upwards of billions of dollars with successful returning of stolen materials becoming more of the exception than the norm. Settlement agreements or restitution of any kind was opposed by many governments and sometimes even neglected until after the Cold War when the extent of both the worth and amount of objects seized became more widely known. The signing of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art in 1998 by over forty countries set into motion the identification of confiscated art pieces and the subsequent restitution of the art pieces to the pre-war owners.

Having said this, I found Woman in Gold to be a dynamic and intriguing portrayal of an actual art restitution claim that began in the late 1990s. This movie stars Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, a Jewish woman who was forced to flee Vienna during World War II and who left with nothing more than the clothes on her back. Sixty years later, she began the arduous journey to get back her own family possessions that the Nazis seized, even while they were still living in their apartment in Vienna. Among these possessions, and arguably the one that created the most scandal in Austria, was the painting by Gustav Klimt called “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (aka “Woman in Gold”) that is a painting done of Maria Altmann’s aunt Adele. The Austrian government was not keen, to say the least, to just hand over the painting to Miss Altmann as it had become part of Austria’s heritage, even though it had been stolen from their family and not gifted as the government believes.

Ryan Reynolds plays as Maria Altmann’s attorney, Randy Schoenberg, a man who at first writes Altmann off and then becomes increasingly involved in this case, risking his job and family, and ultimately taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court. This movie is a fascinating look into the tangled and confusing web of restitution claims, governmental politics, and legal processes. It also perfectly highlights how the actual process of reclaiming something that was illegally taken from you can be incredibly difficult. Woman In Gold is only one story of successful art restitution, but with the release of this movie, the public is made more aware of the atrocities committed and objects stolen by the Nazis and just how complicated it is to get back something that is rightfully yours!


Interested in learning more about art restitution? Check out the following items below!

monuments men bookmonuments men dvdhitler's holy relicsrape of europasaving italythe venus fixershitler's art thiefthe lady in gold

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Petersen and the Churchill Club

boys challenged hitlerOn April 9, 1940, German forces invaded Norway and Denmark.  Knud Pedersen and his family raced outside their house and looked at the sky.  Above them, German warplanes were flying low and pieces of green paper fluttered to the ground.  The German military alerted the citizens of Denmark that they arrived and were taking over the country in order to “protect them”.

King Christian X of Denmark, surrendered almost immediately, convinced that his country’s troops were unable to defeat the Nazi German forces.  Norway resisted with counterattacks with help from Allied Forces and with an underground resistance movement.

Knud Pedersen, his older brother Jens and their friends were ashamed of how their government had reacted.  Denmark had no army to stand up to the Nazis.  “One thing had become very clear: now any resistance in Denmark would have to come from ordinary citizens, not from trained soldiers” -Knud Pedersen.  After reading the newspapers and listening to radio reports from the BBC, Knud and his brother Jens decided that if the adults were not going to act, then they would.  So in the summer of 1940, the first resistance movement began in Denmark.

Knud Pedersen, Jens Pedersen and six of their friends made up the Churchill Club.  The club operated in Aalborg, Denmark for a little over a year.  But during that time, the boys managed to sabotage a lot of German operations.  The Churchill Club started small and with each success, their actions grew bolder.  They stole German weapons, destroyed train cars full of German artillery and machinery and left their mark wherever they went.  More people joined the Churchill Club.  Others assisted them as best as they could.  Of course the Nazis were angry about the attacks against them and sought to find the persons responsible.  The members of the Churchill Club were arrested in May, 1942.

The courage these young men had to defy the Nazi army amazes me.  Knud Pedersen recounts different acts of sabotage that he and his friends committed.  At times, the stories are tense and you fear for the boys safety.  And the book does not end at their arrest.  Pedersen and his friends were still defiant in jail.  Some of them were able to escape nightly and create havoc; sneaking into their jail cell early in the morning.  The Danish and German governments could not agree on what to do with the boys or how to punish them.  But the actions of the Churchill Club inspired more people to rise up and resist the Nazis.

This books is available in print and in audiobook.