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

Aug. 27 2015

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


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy