The Orpheus Clock is a fascinating read

23492837Each time I learn a different component of World War II, a little bit of my heart is chipped away.  I’m always horrified at what the Nazis did to the Jewish community.  My brain just can’t comprehend the decimation of 90% of European Jews.  I just don’t understand how people can have so much hate to do the things they did to neighbors and friends.  With the current election happening and the hate spewing from he who shall not be named, it makes me think of all the lives that were lost during World War II.

This time in The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis, Simon Goodman and his brother Nick take up the search to find their family heritage that their father Bernard spent many, many years searching for until his sudden death while swimming.

I watched the movie Monuments Men and was shocked at the way the Nazis just went in and took what they wanted from private collections, museums and churches.  They were literally breaking off mantels from fireplaces then throwing the items on trains or hiding them in caves dripping of water.

In The Orpheus Clock, Simon receives several boxes after his father dies, which holds many detailed documents about all the artwork, silver and other valuable that were in his family’s collection and have been missing for years.  His father immediately started looking for the artwork right after the war ended.

Simon does a great job telling his grandparent’s story.  How they established the bank, built their immense wealth and how they died in a work camp.  He also did a great job of detailing what transpired as the Nazis started to gain strength and continuously took from the Jews.  It’s so appalling how the Nazis just kept pecking and pecking, slowing stripping the Jews of their livelihood and their humanity.

There is still so much artwork that has not been claimed.  I wonder if it’s because the families are no longer around, whether they don’t have the documentation to get their belongings back, don’t have the resources to fight or they have given up because too many people fight them along the way.  It’s appalling the people who don’t want to give items back like Daniel Searle even though Simon and Nick had solid proof they were the owners of a painting he had in his possession.

Sometimes it takes years to get items back.  When Simon finds the Orpheus Clock, which is at the Landesmuseum Wurttemberg in Stuttgart, I thought the museum workers were very kind.  Several of the items Simon recovered are still being displayed in museums.  Some the family sold to help with the search and some are still lost.  While reading what Simon and Nick went through to prove an item was part of the Gutmann collection, I wanted to yell “just give them the item!”

This is a fascinating book about a part of World War II most people don’t know about.  It makes me wonder while I was walking through the Berlin museums in 2012, were any of the artwork I was admiring stolen by the Nazis and still not claimed by the correct owners?

Book Description:

The passionate, gripping, true story of one man’s single-minded quest to reclaim what the Nazis stole from his family, their beloved art collection, and to restore their legacy.

Simon Goodman’s grandparents came from German-Jewish banking dynasties and perished in concentration camps. And that’s almost all he knew about them—his father rarely spoke of their family history or heritage. But when he passed away, and Simon received his father’s old papers, a story began to emerge.

The Gutmanns, as they were known then, rose from a small Bohemian hamlet to become one of Germany’s most powerful banking families. They also amassed a magnificent, world-class art collection that included works by Degas, Renoir, Botticelli, Guardi, and many, many others. But the Nazi regime snatched from them everything they had worked to build: their remarkable art, their immense wealth, their prominent social standing, and their very lives.

Simon grew up in London with little knowledge of his father’s efforts to recover their family’s prized possessions. It was only after his father’s death that Simon began to piece together the clues about the Gutmanns’ stolen legacy and the Nazi looting machine. He learned much of the collection had gone to Hitler and Hermann Goering; other works had been smuggled through Switzerland, sold and resold to collectors and dealers, with many works now in famous museums. More still had been recovered by Allied forces only to be stolen again by heartless bureaucrats—European governments quietly absorbed thousands of works of art into their own collections. Through painstaking detective work across two continents, Simon has been able to prove that many works belonged to his family, and successfully secure their return.

With the help of his family, Simon initiated the first Nazi looting case to be settled in the United States. They also brought about the first major restitution in The Netherlands since the post-war era.

Goodman’s dramatic story, told with great heart, reveals a rich family history almost obliterated by the Nazis. It is not only the account of a twenty-year long detective hunt for family treasure, but an unforgettable tale of redemption and restoration.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat