Monday, July 13, 2015

Immunized against the plight of others.

Portrait Of Adele Bloch Bauer I
Gustav Klimt

More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? - Jeremiah 17

Look how we continue to take in stride the displacement of peoples, not to mention the confiscation of their property and lands.

I was reminded of that while watching one of the best films of the year - in my opinion:  Woman In Gold, with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds.  It is the true story of Maria Altman, a Jewish immigrant to the United States after she escaped the Nazis in Vienna, and her long legal battle with the Austrian government to reclaim property stolen from her family.  Reynolds plays her lawyer who aided her in the decade long fight.  The stolen property included a portrait of her aunt by Gustav Klimt, which had been celebrated as the 'Mona Lisa' of Austria.

Flashback footage dramatizes the dehumanization of Vienna's Jews, their humiliation, the confiscation of their businesses and property, as well as their arrest and deportation.  The worst part of the story is how complicit the Austrians were in the persecution of Jews and how envious they were of their apparent wealth and social status.

In one poignant scene, a man on the steps of the court in Vienna insults Mrs. Altman telling her 'it is never enough for you people' - in other words, she should leave well enough alone and not seek justice or restitution for stolen property.  His contempt revealed an underlying antisemitism one senses continues to fester in certain segments of European society and elsewhere.

My first thought was that there is a 'Nazi heart' in people.  There is greed and envy and hatred and oppression - these are the evils within, which come out of man's heart and defile him.

As a culture, we continue to ignore the plight of people whose lands are confiscated, along with their property; those who, unless they are fortunate enough to escape, face servitude, outright slavery, and in some cases extermination.  We see these atrocities repeated time and again, currently in Syria and Iraq - but it also happens elsewhere, Africa, South America - middle class people,as well as the poor, are robbed of everything.

Like the fellow who confronted Mrs. Altman on the steps in Vienna in the film Woman in Gold, many today appear to be immunized against the plight of others and object to any reminder of the injustice they have been made to suffer.

One sees the attitude repeated in the criticisms of many people regarding the Apostolic visit of Pope Francis to South America, misrepresenting so many of his efforts at reconciliation and reparation.  I wonder how many people are conscious of what happened to the indigenous people in Paraguay - even as recently as the 20th Century?
There are 17 indigenous tribes who live primarily in the Chaco region of Paraguay. In 2002, their numbers were estimated at 86,000. During the period between 1954 and 1989, when the military dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner ruled Paraguay, the indigenous population of the country suffered from more loss of territory and human rights abuses than at any other time in the nation's history. In early 1970, international groups claimed that the state was complicit in the genocide of the Aché, with charges ranging from kidnapping and the sale of children, withholding medicines and food, slavery and torture. During the 1960s and 1970s, 85% of the Aché tribe died, often hacked to death with machetes, in order to make room for the timber industry, mining, farming and ranchers.  According to Jérémie Gilbert, the situation in Paraguay has proven that it is difficult to provide the proof required to show "specific intent", in support of a claim that genocide had occurred. The Aché, whose cultural group is now seen as extinct, fell victim to development by the state who had promoted the exploration of their territories by transnational companies for natural resources. Gilbert concludes that although a planned and voluntary destruction had occurred, it is argued by the state that there was no intent to destroy the Aché, as what had happened was due to development and was not a deliberate action. - Source

Pope Francis knows these things - he doesn't distance himself, neither is he immunized against reality, nor would he say to a Jew: "It's never enough for you people ..."

I highly recommend the film - Woman in Gold - it is still in theaters.  


  1. Yes, I too, highly recommend this movie. .it is a drama of personalities I don't often get to see in popular film today. .Helen Mirren is always a treat, and the set decoration and wardrobe were spot on. .

    1. Thanks Melinda - I watched it twice now.


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