Monday, June 16, 2014

Documentary Review: Portrait of Wally

Most documentary suggestions come from my SWPL friends. One was "Portrait of Wally", described to me as a wonderful documentary that is like a detective story. Tracking down Nazi plunder was how it was pitched to me. Not quite. Tracking down Nazi art plunder is best handled by the book and documentary "The Rape of Europa". Check that documentary out for interesting stories. This documentary is another piece of nonfiction to throw into the pile genre of oppressed Jews emerging victorious and feeling bittersweet over the 20th century. This documentary is in effect a wonderful propaganda piece for the victors of the Portrait of Wally legal battle.

For background, Egon Schiele was an Austrian artiste associated with Gustav Klimt. In my amateur opinion, Klimt is superior to Schiele, and Schiele was just a young guy drawing and painting naked women. Not work I'd consider worth millions. Lea Bondi Jaray had an art gallery in Austria in pre-WW2 Vienna. She had the painting. She claimed it was part of her private collection. Her gallery was Aryanized, she fled the country and supposedly gave it to Friedrich Welz who Aryanized her gallery because it might have meant death if she had not. After the war, she sought compensation for her gallery confiscation as well as sought this specific portrait as it was her private collection. Rudolf Leopold had contact with her, then bought the painting himself from the Austrian museum and added it to his collection for decades, being shady with the history of the painting. Lea Bondi Jaray gave up seeking the painting and died well before the lawsuit (late '70s).

Flash forward to 1997, and the Museum of Modern Art is putting on a giant Schiele exhibit specifically from the Leopold Museum. Magically as the exhibit opens, the intrepid NY Times reporter (Jewish) on the scene is approached by a Jane Kallir (her 2nd wedding announcement is unintentionally hysterical) about a possible Nazi connection in the exhibit. The NY Times then publishes a long, passionate article on the exhibit and the complex Rudolf Leopold, leading the very article off with the "Portrait of Wally" struggle. Of note, Jane Kallir is the granddaughter of the art gallery owner that Ms. Jaray wrote letters to about her lost Wally. District Attorney Robert Morgenthau (Jewish, and yes grandson of the Treasury Secretary) tries to impound the painting on a whim (he admits he had no case), which is then overturned but the Feds step in to keep the painting in America. Key Feds interviewed are Sharon Cohen Levin (Jewish) and Bonnie Goldblatt (Jewish). At the end in 2010 just before Rudolf Leopold's death, the painting was returned to the heirs of Jaray but bought back from them by the Leopold Museum for $19 million. It hangs in Austria with a week or two in New York.

Here's the biggest problem with this dispute: was the picture listed in the gallery's inventory? We never find out. A simple inventory listing would have answered this and framed the dispute in a clear light. Germans and Jews are both pretty good record keepers.

We do not hear that detail because this is about portraying an emotional struggle of good vs. evil. Instead, we get evil Leopold and enabling, quasi-Nazi Austrians conspiring to steal away the poor little lady's picture. This documentary harps on the "fact" that Jews were outside the establishment in Vienna, which is laughable if you read the works of Jewish writers Stefan Zweig and Karl Kraus. Jews were a part of the establishment and the major patrons of the arts. In the last quarter of the 19th century, Jews in Vienna (157,000 by 1900) took advantage of emancipation and opportunities to be leaders in banking, industry, medicine, law and journalism. The entire economy was based on capital from their banks, which were based in Vienna and wait for it, mostly linked to Jews. Rothschild created the Creditanstalt that performed both I-banking and commercial banking, inspiring imitators. After Freud's rise, Karl Kraus wrote with his sharp pen, "The Jews control the press, they control the stock market, and now they control the unconscious". They were the establishment. They also were still different which is the case for Jews in every single nation they live in partly due to religion, partly due to others and partly due to their nature of self segregation. This outside yet inside the establishment issue might be the reason why Zionism was born in Austria and roughly 30,000 conversions to Christianity took place (mostly in the upper classes). Wait, no, forget these facts. Listen to the documentary, the Jews of Austria lived in the gutter and were stamped on by evil Austrians relentlessly throughout their existence. This is not about truth; it is about emotion and one side being righteous and victorious.

The documentary interviews many people with the Austrians taking a variety of positions from Leopold knew to it's complex and could've been a mistake to "ve know nutzing". It is obvious Leopold tried to obscure the painting's past. On the other hand, the Jews see Leopold as a greedy, Mitlaufer of the art world. This is as they admit Morgenthau's move to impound the painting had no basis in law, and hold multiple law enforcement positions, riding high in the American system if you will. No one ever questions how this is in effect one woman and her heirs' word over the word of a dead man (the Welz guy). She gave the painting, which is odd since most fleeing Jews sold their paintings. The painting is not part of the gallery despite many gallery owners decorating their homes with pieces out of rotation from their gallery.

19 million?
It's not about money. This isn't about money. Money ain't an issue. You hear this throughout the documentary from the family. Oddly enough, the painting was valued at $2 million in 1997, but somehow the settlement was for $19 million in 2010. In the words of the most repulsive sounding heir (some heirs sounded genuinely emotional and sympathetic), Ruth Rozanek chuckles and says "no one got rich" off of the settlement. She did know the lawyers got $6 mil of the award. Doing some math, the 50 heirs would have received roughly $250,000 from the settlement. That is a pretty good shakedown that even Jesse Jackson would raise his glass to. The Portrait of Wally case though is the ground breaker for Holocaust art restitution.

In summary, this starts with an exhibit coming to America. Coincidentally, the granddaughter of a friend of the victim approaches a co-ethnic NY Times reporter with tales of Nazis, who leads her article on the entire exhibit with the horrible tragedy (all one woman's word). The legal machine starts up with no basis by a co-ethnic. Co-ethnics hold different law enforcement positions. The dispute lasts years, and finally when awarded the painting, which we are repeatedly told is all that matters, they turn around and sell it back to the Museum for roughly ten times it's estimated value at the start of the dispute. At the very end, there is one heir who gives the "this ain't about tolerance, bitch" speech after he was angry at the speech from Leopold's elderly wife on transferring Wally. Hey, he was not a Shoah victim but he can inherit that anger while wearing a three piece suit. It is a wonderful split claim: we're eternal victims yet $19 million settlements do not make anyone rich. I watched this so you do not have to. I'll re-title this documentary, "Transatlantic Jewish Multimillion Dollar Shakedown".


peterike said...

This relates to one of my long standing beefs. Whenever Jews are depicted in films surrounding the Holocaust in any aspect (at least several of which are released every year), invariably Jews are shown as timid little shop keepers, just regular people with no power. Why would the nasty Germans turn on them?

Almost never are they shown as what they truly were in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, etc. Namely, leading and powerful figures in finance, law and insurance; press barons; industrialists, and so on.

You also never see the other aspect of Jewish influence, the cultural aspect. Jews were a major part of the decadence of the Wiemar republic and the years between the wars. They drove nihilistic and revolutionary thinking in universities and the arts, introduced all the twisted psychoses of Freudian thinking, pushed decadence and pornography, atheism and sexual license. A very important reason that the German people turned to the Nazis was because of Hitler's stated intent to "clean up" the decadence and perversion that had run rampant. And he did it, too.

One film that did show this was "Cabaret," but of course the decadent showbiz people were presented as tragic heroes.

None of this excuses the extremes of the Holocaust, but it at least would offer a context that makes sense. Otherwise, most Americans really think the Germans just hated the Jews for no reason at all. Who could hate all those haberdashers? What did they ever do to anybody?

But this is typical of Progressive narratives. Like all the lynchings in the South were just whites randomly stringing up blacks, and not reactions to specific crimes, which is what lynchings actually were probably 99% of the time.

PA said...

For a good look at interwar Mitteleuropa, read Arthur Koestler's two-part autobiography "Arrow in the Blue" (1905–1931) and "Invisible Writing (1932-1940)."

eah said...

"Transatlantic Jewish Multimillion Dollar Shakedown"

My advice: don't look too closely at details of the 'Holocaust' -- it could quickly lead to thought crime.

The inimitable Irene Zisblatt.

Son of Brock Landers said...

@eah - Paul Rasiner's books somehow are out of print and expensive. Gee wonder why?