Why Should We Care That a Great Piece of Art Was Plundered by Nazis?

Nick Cohen reviews two films about five paintings by Gustav Klimt (including the famed Woman in Gold) that were stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family, held by the Austrian government for decades after the war, and returned to Maria Altmann, the daughter of the original owners, after a protracted legal battle—and he asks an important question:

[N]either film asks a question that goes to the root of our experience of art: why should we care? The fate of the Klimts makes my point. After her family’s paintings were restored, Maria Altmann sold Woman in Gold for $135 million to Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie in New York. It is on public display, as it was in Vienna, and no harm has been done. But anonymous private buyers bought the three Klimt landscapes and the [other] portrait. . . .

A painting hidden from public view is like a banned book: it might as well not exist. Justice for the rightful owners of a great work is all very well, but the rest of us might worry more about keeping it on public display. . . . The answer lies in our yearning for authenticity. . . . [M]ost people want to know that murderers did not steal the picture in front of them. The Nazis understood this. As with the gas chambers, they knew they could not admit to their crimes. . . .

When I visited the Belvedere in the 1990s, all five Klimts were on public view, compared with just two today. Their display was not the blessing it seemed because the gallery could not tell the truth — be authentic, if you like —without changing the way most visitors would have looked at them. Honesty would have required them to say: “This picture was taken at gunpoint. We have never compensated its rightful owners or secured their consent to hang it here.” . . .

If I—and I hope you—had read that, we would not have seen a work of luscious beauty in front of us but a crime scene, and demanded that the courts intervene.

Read more at Standpoint

More about: Art, Arts & Culture, Austria, Holocaust, Holocaust restitution

How to Turn Palestinian Public Opinion Away from Terror

The Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid, responding to the latest survey results of the Palestinian public, writes:

Not coincidentally, support for Hamas is much higher in the West Bank—misgoverned by Hamas’s archrivals, the secular nationalist Fatah, which rules the Palestinian Authority (PA)—than in Gaza, whose population is being actively brutalized by Hamas. Popular support for violence persists despite the devastating impact that following radical leaders and ideologies has historically had on the Palestinian people, as poignantly summed up by Israel’s Abba Eban when he quipped that Arabs, including the Palestinians, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Just as worrying is the role of propaganda and misinformation, which are not unique to the Palestinian context but are pernicious there due to the high stakes involved. Misinformation campaigns, often fueled by Hamas and its allies, have painted violent terrorism as the only path to dignity and rights for Palestinians. Palestinian schoolbooks and public media are rife with anti-Semitic and jihadist content. Hamas’s allies in the West have matched Hamas’s genocidal rhetoric with an equally exterminationist call for the de-normalization and destruction of Israel.

It’s crucial to consider successful examples of de-radicalization from other regional contexts. After September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia implemented a comprehensive de-radicalization program aimed at rehabilitating extremists through education, psychological intervention, and social reintegration. This program has had successes and offers valuable lessons that could be adapted to the Palestinian context.

Rather than pressure Israel to make concessions, Eid argues, the international community should be pressuring Palestinian leaders—including Fatah—to remove incitement from curricula and stop providing financial rewards to terrorists.

Read more at Newsweek

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion