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June 7, 2016 5:08 pm

Actress Helen Mirren Advocates for Holocaust Victims Before Congress; Highlights ‘Moral Imperative’ to Ensure Return of Nazi Looted Art to Rightful Owners (VIDEO)

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Actress Dame Helen Mirren testifying before Congress on the importance of a new act that seeks to provide victims of the Holocaust and their families legal means to recover works of art looted by the Nazis. Photo: Video Screenshot.

Actress Dame Helen Mirren testifying before Congress on the importance of a new act that seeks to provide victims of the Holocaust and their families legal means to recover works of art looted by the Nazis. Photo: Video Screenshot.

Iconic actress and Oscar winner Dame Helen Mirren declared before Congress on Tuesday that there is a “moral imperative” to ensure the return of Nazi looted art to its rightful Jewish owners. 

Appearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittees on the Constitution and Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, Mirren testified in support of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, which seeks to “provide the victims of Holocaust-era persecution and their heirs a fair opportunity to recover works of art confiscated or misappropriated by the Nazis.”

Mirren first highlighted the issue when she portrayed Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann in the 2015 critically-acclaimed movie Woman in Gold, which tells the story of Altmann’s quest to reclaim five paintings by artist Gustav Klimt that were stolen from her family by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Two of the paintings — “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” also called “The Woman in Gold,” and “Adele Bloch-Bauer II” — portray Altmann’s aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Altmann made headlines in 2006 when she successfully won a Supreme Court lawsuit against the Government of Austria, which claimed that Altmann’s uncle, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer — the original owner of the paintings — donated them to the Austrian State Gallery.

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“I am an actor who portrayed the role of Maria Altmann in Woman in Gold,” Mirren said in her opening statement. The movie tells “the true story of a woman who overcame enormous odds and righted a wrong that stood for six decades,” she added. 

“I personally had to go on a journey,” Mirren said about readying for playing the role of Altmann. I am a child of the Second World War, born in 1945, and the memory of the Second World War is part of my history.” Mirren said she had “never really confronted the reality” of some of the atrocities of the Holocaust and to play Altmann, she had to “put her [Altmann’s] memories in my mind…and relive those moments.”

Mirren said it is a “terribly sad fact that more than 70 years later,” victims of the Holocaust and their families are still afraid to seek restitution. “The rightful thing to do is return the art to its rightful owners,” she told the committee, adding that the Nazi crime of looting Jewish-owned art was “not only unjust but…inhumane.”

"The Woman in Gold" by Gustav Klimt. Photo: Neue Galerie New York.

“The Woman in Gold” by Gustav Klimt. Photo: Neue Galerie New York.

Mirren related that around the same time Woman in Gold was released, she appeared on Broadway in the play The Audience and was told by many of the show’s attendees of their personal family connections to Nazi looted art.

“Every night, people would approach me and say, ‘That’s my family’s story…that’s what happened to us.’ It is extraordinary how many people share Maria’s story,” she said, adding it is a story of “noble justice…a story not made possible without this incredible country, the United States of America.”

World governments, Mirren said, must act to return the stolen art because “art restitution has little to do with potential financial gains.” It is about “preserving the fundamental human condition” and allowing Jewish people the opportunity to reclaim their history, culture and families, she stated. “Art is a reflection of memories…when Jewish people were dispossessed of their art, they lost their heritage, their memories were taken along with the art. No memories is like having no family. That’s why art restitution is so imperative,” Mirren said.

The HEAR Act, Mirren said, guarantees that “access to justice and the courts will be ensured,” adding, “Justice is so much more difficult and so much more complex, but we all dream of justice. We are incapable of changing the past, but we are capable of making change today,” she said.

The HEAR Act is co-sponsored by Sens.Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Cornyn (R-TX), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Testifying alongside Mirren was World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, who bought The Woman in Gold in 2006 for $135 million. The painting has since been on display at the Neue Galerie in New York City.

Watch the full footage of Mirren’s testimony below:


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