Relevance

 

If you are so rash, or perhaps unhinged enough to proclaim yourself a writer you will encounter a host of critics who will judge your worth. It goes with the job and once you feel the barbs of those who call out your efforts as biased or “flat” or “not so much” you have only two options – despair and wallow in the muck or sprout some wings and fly above them.

No one is going to like everything that you say and many will just ignore your work as either not to their taste or perhaps, even worse irrelevant. I had a friend, or at least I thought she was at the time who relegated my historical novels to the irrelevant pile. “After all,” she said. “Who wants to read about World War I or the crimes of the Nazis?” She was more into TV crime shows and such epics as American Idol.

Recently, I finished the last of my Harry Braham espionage novels. It is set during and after the Second World War and the story line involves art looted by the Nazis that is used to fund the escape of war criminals from Europe to South America and the Middle East. Specifically, the book deals with the work of Gustav Klimt, the Austrian painter who was the subject of the book and film Woman in Gold.Klimt painted a wide variety of subjects and his works were collected by the crème-de-la-crème of Viennese society. That so many of his and other artworks were in the collection of wealthy Jews made the job of the Nazi art thieves easier. They inventoried and then removed the works while shipping the owners off to places like Auschwitz. Many of the works were taken by Nazi officials for their personal collections and others trucked off to SS warehouses. Many have yet to see the light of day and many more have been turned to dust by the ravages of war.

Back to relevance. In today’s New York Timesis an article about how Jewish heirs are challenging an art foundation over the ownership of a number of artworks inventoried and stolen by the Nazis in 1938. Principal among the works are paintings by Egon Schiele. Schiele was a friend and colleague of Gustav Klimt. Together, in 1902 they created The Vienna Secession a movement in Vienna of new and aspiring artists seeking to crack the stodgy veneer of the city’s opinions of art. Schiele and Klimt formed the nucleus of this new movement and their works were eagerly sought after by the Nazis even though the style and subjects of their work were contradictory to that espoused by Hitler and Goebbels in their attempt to set new standards for Germanic art.

I suppose the relevance of writing about stolen art and really evil men (the guys in the black uniforms with SS flashes are easy to spot) is that it has been eighty years since the pieces in the article were stolen. The men who perpetrated these thefts are either dead or soon will be. And yet, the enormity of the crimes continue to affect us to this day. “Evil is”, the famous line uttered by Kirk Douglas in The List of Adrian Messenger remains true now as it was when rampaging Nazis ran amok in European capitals. No one should forget, and that brings me to this moment in time.

I am a baby-boomer, born of parents who survived the Depression and the Second World War. My father bagged four German Me-109 fighters while in combat with the Eighth Air Force over Germany. I was raised to know the symbols of evil when I see them. So, if I rail at swastikas and Nazi symbols raised in the streets of America I am righteously outraged. When a major political party remains mute about them or winks conspiratorially at leaders of such people I am dismayed.

If the damage done by the Nazis eighty years ago is still with us, what can we expect from the current crop of hate-mongers. Whose turn is it next to be hustled off to the barbed wire? Relevance? It is as current as today’s headlines.