My interests in World War II touch on the disposition of art during and after the war. I have had this interest since I wrote my first paper on it in high school which was regarding the disposition of so called "degenerate art" and artists.
Tim Bonyhady wrote a book about his family. His mother was born into a very rich family in Vienna. Her name was Annelore, her mother's name Gretl Gallia. Annelore's father's name was Paul Herschmann. Her parents were divorced and Annelore took her mother's name. Gretl was one of four children of Hermine Hamburger Gallia and Moriz Gallia.
Hermine and Moriz were art partrons in Vienna at the turn of the century. They had come to Vienna from other parts of Europe and assimilated into the culture and part of that was converting to Catholicism. They were supporters of the Weiner Werkstatte, and numerous artists such as GustavKlimt. Klimt did an important portrait of Hermine which is now in the National Gallery in London.
The theme of the book is the life of this family focused on their home in Vienna, how they mingled throughout the arts as patrons and how they became Christian, but in the end did not save them from the Nazis. The intimacy of their lives is greatly detailed in diaries of the women and recordings of their social events and even their romantic encounters, the day to day living and the transition to their new life in Austrailia.
On Kristallnacht, Annelore found herself in the Opera enjoying one of her favorite's Mozart's The Magic Flute. The thing is, everything had changed by then in Vienna for Jews and Annelore had recently been baptized as a Catholic at the Fransican Church. She had been raised as a Jew up to the age of 16 at the insistance of her father. The point of no return had already taken place, people were fleeing as much as they possibly could Germany, escaping with what they could, if they had papers. While waiting for immigration paperwork to come through for Australia, there was much to do.
They hired movers and had things wrapped and readying for shipping. The packing had begun before Kristallnacht and amazing, for them, continued in the confusion the day after. The people contracted to do the work did so and the entire containers of goods were shipped to Austrailia with the women to follow shortly. These three women, Annelore, her mother Gretl and Kathe Gallia, Gretl's sister, were the only people, Jews, to escape in WWII with their entire art collection, rooms of Han Hoffman furniture from their apartment, silver, dishes and personal items intact and unconficated by the Nazis.
The women were keepers of their family history and had books, diaries and personal items of their famous parents, who were wealthy and privledged at the time of the Austrian Seccession Movement. This family, among other Jewish families came from all over the Hapsburg Empire and made Vienna the most Jewish city in western Europe at that time; the turn of the century. While they tried to assimilate, they were only successful for their lifetimes, and not that of their children.
Many people fled Europe as Jews to assimilate here as immigrants at that same time. In my family, my grandfather came to the United States at this time, as well as my grandparents on my mother's side. We are unsure if my father's father assimilated. There are some things which lend themselves to that speculation.
This book appealed to me on many levels, first, the WWII, which is of significant interest to me. Secondly, it is about art rescued from the clutches of the Nazis, just in time. Thirdly, it is the inner view of a family, all of the expanse of emotional history that can be conveyed through several generations of personal memorabilia, including souveniers, photograpy, paintings and writings. Lastly it is about the lengths that people will go to try and save themselves, and their children from certain harm and even death. They will abandon their heritage and beliefs for the sake of survival and acceptance, and in the end, all they have is who they are because that is never erased. While their faith in Christianity may have, in no doubt some cases , been actually a true and sincere one, it could not change them in the eyes of the Nazis.
The intimacy in this book is comforting, it is the sharing of life, the past, both bad and good. It is a story of privilege and the loss of it, the wounds from a neglectful father that even war and survival could not provide peace regarding. It is also the idea of how certain Jewish families, the Rothchilds among them, for generations married within to keep money and power in the family, which is what the Gallia's also did. It is also about the opulance of having your apartment, room by room, designed by artists and reviewing sketches of them before everything including furniture is even executed, all built to order, as a wedding gift.
Relationships with Mahler, with Klimt, with so many famous artists of the time, really proved that the wealth of being a patron could afford you a ticket into society and prestige but could also give you personal repore, and the gilt of art's mantle wrapped around you. It could also give you the opportunity for an affair or two with the most talented artists of the day.
Tim Bonyhady writes as a loving son and takes us on his personal journey into the past. It is a fascinating tale.
Copyright 2012 by SheilaTGTG55