‘Woman in Gold,’ a Stirring Movie
During a recent flight to Europe, I found myself growing sentimental as I watched “Woman in Gold,” the 2015 movie starring Helen Mirren about an elegant, elderly Jewish woman from Vienna whose family was decimated by the Nazis and whose art was plundered by the SS elite forces.
I was quite surprised I hadn’t heard of the movie before.
The movie is based on the true story of Maria Altmann, a refugee transplant in Los Angeles, and her young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, as they together fought the government of Austria for nearly 10 years — ending up in the Supreme Court of the United States along the way — to reclaim the Gustav Klimt paintings stolen from her family. The collection included the iconic painting of Altmann’s aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, from which the movie gets its name. (Spoiler alert: Altmann won the case and the “Woman in Gold” painting was sold for $135 million to Ronald Lauder. It hangs today in Manhattan’s Neue Galerie on permanent display.)
The movie has some great lines, like when Mirren as Altmann tells those who say it is time to just let it go, “Do you think half a century ago was a long time?” As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I heard my mother’s voice in those words. Mirren articulates the fight for restitution as a battle for justice, not money (regardless of the fact that the Bloch-Bauer piece is worth many millions of dollars), explaining that restitution means “to return to its original state. I’d love to be returned to my original happy state, where children played happily and my people lived freely.”
Sometimes, it’s not possible to forgive and forget; as the Torah says, “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Yet, the Altmann character rightfully notes, as did many in real life, that restitution did nothing to make it any better that millions of Jews lost so much during the Holocaust, including their lives.
Mirren brilliantly portrayed the toughness, strength and valiance of Holocaust survivors. She portrays a woman who had to be so headstrong as to tell the Austrian government, “I will not be quiet. I will not play this game anymore.”
One of the movie’s last scenes shows Mirren’s character saying goodbye to her parents, who tell their daughter as they see her for the last time: “We worked hard we did everything we could to contribute. We are proud of what we have done. And we are proud of our children. And now as you go, I ask you only one thing, remember us. Remember us. Take us in your heart and learn to be happy again.”
We must always remember the six million, as we move on and live life happily.