By Rabbi Miriam Berger
The time of transition from Yom HaShoah tov Yom Hazikaron would have been the ideal time to see the film Woman in Gold. It is an extraordinary story that turns the issue of art restitution from one of property to one of identity. It left me feeling as shaken and upset about our past as you would expect from Yom HaShoah, yet with just a little too much discomfort about the ongoing struggle sadly encompassed by Yom Hazikaron.
The cinema was almost full, but there wasn’t a person there who wasn’t recognisably Jewish. What’s more, my friends and I (in our 30s) were considerably younger than the average age of the rest of the audience.
After the film ended, we left in a rather uncharacteristic stunned silence. I questioned why it felt that nobody else cared. I was saddened by the lonely journey I felt I had taken with my fellow religionists. This was in most part the message of the film.
Woman in Gold contrasts the savage and brutal Nazi occupied Austria of the 1930s with a burgeoning renaissance and reinvention of the 1990s. It made it clear that even after witnessing the horrors that befell the Jews, it is easier to reinterpret or even cover up the past, allowing those who were either complicit or beneficiaries to avoid any guilt or regret, and that the tragedies and injustices of the past are of little interest to the wider world several decades later and the ongoing pain endured by individuals is of little consequence to anyone else.
The film highlights, however, that the past is not the past for the victims and their families. The past leaves an indelible mark on generations that follow and scars the future. At this time of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, we are forced to remember the imperative of not standing idly by and to acknowledge our past as something that impacts who we are today and is a lesson for all for the future.
If only people could see Woman in Gold as a film for them too and not just for us.
Miriam Berger is principal rabbi at Finchley Reform Synagogue