Grapevine: The Nazi obsession with art

TRAFFIC BETWEEN Israel and Jordan is likely to increase somewhat thanks to outgoing Bulgarian Ambassador Dimitar Mihaylov, who after almost six years in Israel is concluding his tenure.

Outgoing Bulgarian Ambassador Dimitar Mihaylov (photo credit: ISRAEL COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS)
Outgoing Bulgarian Ambassador Dimitar Mihaylov
Among the films being shown over the next week at the annual Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque is the Italian production directed by Claudio Poli called Hitler versus Picasso and the Others – The Nazi Obsession for Art.
It is arguably one of the more timely films this season, given that some 1,000 people from museums, art galleries and major Jewish organizations from around the world were in Berlin this week to attend a conference on the restitution of Nazi-looted art.
The conference organized by the German Lost Art Foundation, came on the heels of an accusation by World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder that Germany is shirking in its responsibility by dragging its heels in returning art confiscated by the Nazis.
Germany was one of 44 countries whose representatives convened in Washington in December, 1998, to endorse a set of principles designed to help the heirs of Jewish art collectors to recover art works plundered by the Nazis. In addition to Germany, other countries that have fallen short of their restitution commitments include Hungary, Poland, Spain, Russia and Italy said Stuart Eizenstat, an adviser to the US State Department, who was one of the conference speakers.
It is estimated that the Nazis looted more than 20,000 works of art belonging to Jews, and that many of these works later found their way to European and other museums.
It has not always been easy to trace their provenance. Hitler was himself a mediocre artist but regarded himself as an art connoisseur, and with the plundered works had intended to establish a European Art Museum in Linz. In 1937 the Nazi regime held two exhibitions in Munich: one to stigmatize what Hitler considered to be “degenerate art,” much of which was subsequently destroyed, and one to glorify “classic art.”
The film, narrated by Toni Servillo, takes viewers through exhibitions by Botticelli, Klee, Matisse, Monet, Chagall, Renoir, and Gauguin. Each exhibition includes witness testimony of destruction and looting – from the Bernheimer family, who were forced to barter their freedom, to “Hitler’s dealer,” known to have hidden the most priceless art treasures of the century.
The film will be screened on Saturday, December 1, and Tuesday, December 4.
■ TRAFFIC BETWEEN Israel and Jordan is likely to increase somewhat thanks to outgoing Bulgarian Ambassador Dimitar Mihaylov, who after almost six years in Israel is concluding his tenure. But Mihaylov will not be going very far geographically for his next post because he is designated to be Bulgaria’s next ambassador to Jordan.
Many of his friends and acquaintances in Israel see this as a good thing, and believe that with his intricate knowledge of the Middle East, Mihaylov can act as a bridge between nations in the region.
In Israel, Mihaylov has numerous friends and acquaintances in the diplomatic corps, in academia and in politics, and there is little doubt that they will take advantage of the relatively short distance between Israel and Jordan to go and visit him and he, in turn, may persuade more Jordanian academics to visit Israel.
This week, the World Jewish Congress-sponsored Israel Council on Foreign Relations, held a farewell lecture evening for him at the North Africa Jewish Heritage Center in Jerusalem.
Mihaylov’s understanding of the Middle East can best be illustrated by his confounding many of the experts who in 2013 predicted a swift end to the Assad regime in Syria. Mihaylov begged to differ, and said that Syrian President Bashar Assad wasn’t going anywhere. Hindsight indicated that he knew of what he spoke.
In his lecture, Mihaylov referenced American Middle East analyst Gary Sick and his examples of “black swan events” in the region, such as the Iranian Revolution, the Arab Spring and the waning oil markets in the Persian Gulf to name but a few. Rather than focus on black swans, Mihaylov was more concerned with the butterfly effect, which refers to a slow fluttering that in the long run – or sometimes in a fairly short run – has a devastating impact.
The Middle East is riddled with butterflies, he said.
Relating to major changes in the Middle East in recent decades, Mihaylov attributed this in part to Al Jazeera, which since its founding in 1996 has fearlessly tackled controversial issues and has rendered the old Middle Eastern propaganda machines impotent.
Nonetheless, there are still communities in the Middle East living by old tribal laws. Mihaylov does not see hostilities in Syria ending any time soon, especially as Iran and Russia have different visions for its future. Personally, he thinks that the map of the Middle East should be changed with new territorial frameworks.
Asked about relations between Israel and Europe, Mihaylov said that there are many positive elements and forecast that after the next elections in Europe there will be “a different picture” in Brussels.
■ ONLY A day earlier, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov, also delivered a lecture on developments in the Middle East. In his case, he was speaking at The Ambassador’s Forum at Tel Aviv University.
Viktorov caused a few raised eyebrows when he said that the era of US and other western countries’ dominance in world politics and economics is ending as contemporary international relations are undergoing a period of significant structural changes. The new centers of economic and political clout are Russia, China, India and regional integration associations of various countries.
Amid the new realities, some countries are imposing and sometimes dictate their policies of belief, said Viktorov.
The Middle East, he continued, exemplifies the consequences of imposed policies. “Before the so-called Arab Spring, and during its first months, the people of Arab countries were promised prosperity and democracy,” he said. “In reality, the states of the region were imposed with standards and development models that do not comply with their mode of life, traditions or culture. As a result, instead of rights and freedoms, the region witnessed gross interference in internal affairs, violence, coup d’etat, civil wars and a significant rise of terrorist threats.”
Viktorov cited Syria as “the most vivid example of the forced reconstruction of the Middle East.”
While critical of American intervention in Iraq, Viktorov said that the presence of a Russian contingent “at the request of the legitimate Syrian government,” has helped to eliminate hotbeds of terrorism in the south of Syria.
The situation in and around Syria and the region as a whole is complicated by acute contradictions between Israel and Iran, said Viktorov, who reiterated that Russia does not accept Iran’s statements that Israel should cease to exist. By the same token, Russia does not agree with attempts to link any regional problem, including the Syrian conflict, with the fight against Iranian influence.
“It is unacceptable to teach Iran, Syria, or any other legitimate member of the UN, with which country to develop relations and to disrupt,” he said.
With regard to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Viktorov charged the current American administration with revising previously negotiated international legal agreements, including UN Security Council resolutions. Under these circumstances, he believed that “the prospect of resuming negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians slips further away.”
■ ON THE day prior to his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, British Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, accompanied by British Ambassador David Quarrey visited the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
Fox inspected some of Israel’s innovative start-ups that are on display and said he was very impressed with Israel’s technological creativity. He regarded it as a matter of great importance that there is a place in Israel where people can actually see the most recent innovations.
Innovation is around us all the time and is inseparable from our day-to-day lives, he said. He was pleased to see that some of the start-up companies whose innovation is on display, work with great success in Britain as well.
■ IN OTHER news related to the UK, representatives of 11 British universities visited Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Tuesday as part of a nation-wide pre-Brexit tour of Israeli academic institutions.
The British academic institutions represented were Exeter, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester, Warwick, Lancaster, Durham and Queen Mary universities, as well as Queen’s College in Belfast, King’s College in London and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
The delegation met with BGU rector Prof. Chaim Hames, vice rector for international academic affairs Prof. Limor Aharonson-Daniel, and deputy vice president and dean for research and development Prof. Angel Porgador, and inter alia discussed possibilities for future cooperation.
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