RandySchoenberg12 karma2015-04-10 17:56:21 UTC
In 2006, after 8 years of litigation, the Austrians returned the 5 paintings.
It was 100% a legal battle. 3 Austrian arbitrators ruled in our favor, and directed that they return the paintings under Austrian law.
So the main legal issue in the case had to do with Adele Bloch-Bauer's will, and how to interpret her request that her husband donate the paintings to the Austrian Gallery after his death.
They were stolen (by the Nazis) before he died.
But the way we won the case was that we ended up filing a lawsuit in the United States against the Republic of Austria, and that case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue there was whether it was permissible to sue a foreign sovereign.
We relied on the FSIA of 1976. Austria argued that it was impermissibly retroactive to apply that law to a case that arose in the 1930's and 40's. But the Supreme Court ruled, 6-3, that we were allowed to proceed.
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RandySchoenberg11 karma2015-04-10 17:50:23 UTC
For me, the most difficult parts were the delays.
At every stage, Austria called and demanded more time, refused to answer, and the hardest thing for me was not being able to sit down and speak to them and resolve it in a timely manner.
The case took 8 years, and in that time, Maria went from age 82 to 90 years.
And for me, that was the most difficult and frustrating part.
It was just endless frustrations, throughout the case!
The Supreme Court scene was very accurate. I was not experienced in arguing in front of the Supreme Court - I'd never done it before - but Maria was approached by other lawyers that wanted to argue the case, but she stuck with me. And I had prepared by doing 3 practice sessions - that are called "moot courts," it's like a practice session where judges or lawyers pretend to be Supreme Court Justices and ask you questions - so I thought I'd heard every possible question.
But then, when it came time for me to speak, and I started my presentation, after the first sentence, I was interrupted by Justice Souter, who asked me a long and convoluted question.
I had absolutely no idea what he was asking.
Unfortunately, this is on tape so you can actually LISTEN to it...
But anyway, I didn't understand the question, and I just had to say - "I'm sorry, but I didn't understand the question."
And all the other Justices smiled, as if to say, We didn't understand it either, thank GOD you asked.
And so it was actually the perfect icebreaker.
RandySchoenberg11 karma2015-04-10 17:45:22 UTC
There was so much death & devastation in WWII that really the number of lost or missing items is countless. And I think it was understandable that after the war, survivors had larger concerns than tracking down lost possessions and paintings. So many people were killed. The survivors had their lives destroyed, and needed to rebuild them. So 70 years later, valuable paintings are still missing, and this is one of the few areas where we can actually right some of the wrongs from WWII.
I have no doubt that there are many looted paintings in the United States, and Asia, and elsewhere. It's just a matter of trying to find them.
To give you one example, Maria's brother-in-law, Bernard Altmann, had his entire collection confiscated, including four paintings by the Venetian artist Canaletto.
Only one has been located so far.
RandySchoenberg9 karma2015-04-10 18:23:12 UTC
I met a Holocaust survivor named Gerda Weissmann Klein, and she said she loved it, that it was just so accurate, and that she was so grateful that the movie was made. And I receive another comment last night from a 95 year old friend of mine who escaped from Austria, and he sent me this email:
I just came home from seeing The Woman in Gold and I am a Laberl , as we used to say in Vienna.
I was awakened at 2:00 AM by rifle butts banging on the doors of our apartment on the third floor above the family department store. I opened the door to 8 SA men, who had our lives in their hands. I watched them loot our wardrobes, cabinets, everywhere, pocketing cash and jewellery and stealing my father’s valuable stamp collection - three steamer trunks full - and taking him away to the Sammellager in the Karajangasse, then to Dachau and Buchenwald.
I saw the mob of hundreds, with raised fists, surrounding our department store. I heard the shouted threats before the smashing of our 48 display windows.
I watched the Aryanisation of our department store. only recently I learned Adolf Eichmann was in on it.
I saw my aunt Gretl on her knees, forced to scrub the sidewalk with acid, surrounded by a jeering crowd.
I walked the streets aimlessly. Several times, when I returned home, my mother told me “they” had been there again, looking for me. I am alive today because I happened, by chance, to avoid being killed. On the night of November 9, I walked, without reason, to the top of a hill and saw fires all over Vienna. I later learned all but one of the synagogues of Vienna were destroyed within two days and nights.
In Los Angeles, in the ‘90s, I had managed to paper over the memories with thin, unreliable forgetfulness. Then Austria organised the Wiedergutmachung, which I later openly called the Wiederschlechtmachung, headed by Hannah Lessing, promising retribution, and asking for detailed proof of losses. Writing down all of the outrages tore open old wounds. One example: our department store was “transferred” to a scavenger named Seidenglanz, who paid the equivalent of $25,000.00, The sense of injustice came rushing back.
The property where the department store had been since 1890 was sold last year to the Erste Bank for nearly 40 million EUROS. Our summer villa in Sauerbrunn, in Burgenland, bought in 1911, was confiscated in 1938. There was never any kind of compensation. My relatives - adults and children, were murdered. My father’s mother was killed in Treblinka in 1942. There were three suicides, including my mother.
The Woman in Gold powerfully showed some of this criminal period in Austria. And the Altmann case intruded into my life through Peter Moser, who regularly kept me abreast, through long-distance telephone calls, of his side of the story, the side maintained by the Austrian government. When the final arbitration decision was reached, Moser said it had been gekauft.
Thank you, thank you for everything you did in the Altmann case. That rare shock of breathtaking
justice is a deep satisfaction to victims like me who are still around.
For your information:
I met the Altmanns in 1952, in their house on North Elm Drive, just when I began reviewing for the Los Angeles Times. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a poster size print, on the end wall of their large living room grabbed my attention. I asked about it and Maria told me the story. When I asked, “Why haven’t you gotten it back?” She answered with ein dreckiges Lachen.”
With my profound admiration and heartfelt thanks
RandySchoenberg9 karma2015-04-10 17:41:16 UTC
You know, I offered to meet with him early on, and we decided that it wasn't a good idea, and I sorta agree with that. Obviously to make a movie out of my story, they had to make a character, right? And it's not exactly me in the movie, they changed some things, and I think Ryan Reynolds needed to find his own way of playing that character. So I think meeting me early on would've confused things. But I know he did watch films, and study some of my mannerisms, things like that. And I finally did get to meet him on the last day of shooting, and I went - the scene in Beverly Hills on top of the rooftop, where he's chasing after Maria, and they finished filming that, and walked over to me, and he pointed over at me, and pointed at himself, and he said 'NAILED IT!' because I was wearing khakis and a blue shirt, and there he was, wearing the same thing I was dressed in!
He has a great sense of humor, he was really funny, and super-nice. He's a very serious actor too, which I really liked, and he worked very hard to make this a believable character, and I think that shows in the success of the film.
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