Woman in Gold - A Connection to Testimony

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 10:31am

You never know what you are going to discover in the Visual History Archive. Each one of the 53,000 testimonies in the Archive tells a different story of life before, during and after the individual’s experience with genocide.

As the manager of social media platforms here at USC Shoah Foundation I am constantly looking for connections of current events, news and trends to testimonies in the Archive. I recently watched the trailer to the new film Woman in Gold, which tells the story of Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann and her efforts to recover artwork from the Austrian government that belonged to her family.

So I did a quick search for Mara in the Visual History Archive so I could post about the upcoming movie on our Facebook page; and there was Maria’s life history up until 1996.

Not only does Maria describe how her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer became the subject of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,but how the painting was seized by Nazis during the Anschluss and then was given to the Austrian State Gallery after World War II. At the very end of her testimony, like many interviewees, Maria shows pictures of her childhood and her family over the years. But unlike any other interview, she also shows a poster of the famous Woman in Gold painting.

A poster of the famous Woman in Gold painting show in Maria Altmann's testimony. A poster of the famous Woman in Gold painting show in Maria Altmann's testimony.

Woman in Gold picks up Maria’s story from 1996 and describes how she, along with her attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg (now president of Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust – an access site for the Visual History Archive), won the case Republic of Austria v. Altmann, brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2004.

After watching a few minutes of her testimony, I sat there stunned because yet again, the Archive has preserved another incredible story that goes beyond the Holocaust.

Listening to genocide survivor testimony is not always easy, and working with testimony on a daily basis can be emotionally draining. Even though many testimonies have brought me to tears and made me feel a variety of emotions, more than anything they have given me great insight – that the human spirit can’t be destroyed. Maria’s testimony, like so many in the Visual History Achieve, demonstrates the undeniable strength of the human spirit.

Whether you see the movie or not, take some time out of your day to listen to the entire life story of Maria Altmann.

Deanna Hendrick