Music and Politics

 

Two politicians in Israel recently referred to music in one context or another. This made me prick up my ears and pay attention, which is not something I usually do when I come across statements by politicians, in Israel or anywhere else.

The first was the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. When asked why he preferred to stand trial for the crimes and misdemeanours of which he is accused, he replied (not his exact words, but the gist of them): “The judges in Jerusalem go to synagogue and the judges in Tel Aviv go to the Philharmonic.” What he was implying was that the judges in Jerusalem are honest, god-fearing people, while the ones in Tel Aviv are hedonistic heathen.

As someone who prefers attending a concert by the Philharmonic to going to a synagogue service, I find that statement and its implications inherently offensive, even barbaric, indicating what is to me an incomprehensible antipathy to the high culture embodied in classical music and a preference for chauvinistic traditionalism. I would hope, however, that members of Israel’s judicial system, even if observant Jews living in Jerusalem, would not allow their decisions to be swayed by religious considerations. But of course, there’s no way of knowing how things will turn out in the final event. On the other hand, what can one expect from a prime minister who appoints a Minister of Culture who makes no secret of her disdain for opera, classical music, world literature, and anything associated even vaguely with ‘Kulchur,’ to use Ezra Pound’s term.

The other, less senior, politician, one Yoaz Hendel, who is a member of the Blue-White party, referred to the differences in Israel’s population as being exemplified in the fact that some of them come from backgrounds that involve attending concerts in Vienna while others come from an environment where the beat of the ‘darbuka’ (a kind of drum used in music originating from North Africa) prevails. This statement, apparently made in an attempt to describe Israel’s cultural diversity, was pounced upon by interested parties and used as a political weapon to denigrate the supposed tenet of ‘cultural superiority’ held by Israelis of European origin.

How much truth there is in either statement is open to question. To condemn all judges who attend concerts of classical music, whether in Tel Aviv or anywhere else, seems to me to be the height (or perhaps depths) of prejudice and ignorance. Not only is that statement a sweeping and probably erroneous generalization, it is also irrelevant. But I suppose at a time when Netanyahu is standing with his back to the wall and facing a future criminal trial as well as possible humiliation in the upcoming general election, no statement can be regarded as too outrageous given the situation.

As for the cultural diversity of Israel’s population, making a contrast between western classical music and the music preferred by that segment of the population that originates from North Africa is too stark and simplistic. There are infinite variations and groupings regarding cultural and musical preferences between the two extremes, as well as some cross-over of preferences between and among groupings. But politicians are prone to speak in generalisations and over-simplifications, whether in order to gain attention, win votes or simply pander to their supposed electorate.

The bottom line is that as Israel’s ever-more-demoralized population prepares to go to the voting booth for the third time in a year, with no foreseeable realistic hope of avoiding a fourth round, its politicians are resorting to increasingly outrageous statements aimed at rousing the electorate from its inertia and possibly even changing its mind about whom to vote for.

I have never voted for Netanyahu, and his latest antics convince me that I never will. As for Yoaz Hendel, well, he’s still young and ambitious, probably eager for attention, no matter how it’s achieved. He has claimed that his words were taken out of context, but even in context politicians should be very careful about what they say. And even more so, about what they do.

 

The Pervasiveness of Anti-Semitism

By some strange coincidence – or perhaps not – in the same week as many world leaders gathered in Jerusalem to mark (celebrate?) the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I was in the middle of reading a book about one child’s experience of anti-Semitism. And that child’s experience reminded me of one of my own at a similar age.

The event described in the book ‘O Vous frères humains’ (O ye Human Brethren). by French author Albert Cohen took place in Marseille in 1905, on the author’s tenth birthday. As he was walking home from school he encountered a street vendor around whom a small crowd had gathered. Fascinated by the objects on sale, the child bought some trinkets with the money his mother had given him for his birthday. Noticing his dark curly hair and dark eyes, the vendor proceeded to hurl epithets at him, ‘Dirty Jewboy! We don’t like bloodsucking Yids here, Shove off.’ etc. Adding insult to injury, the people standing around him laughed or did nothing.

Anguished and stunned, the boy wandered away and the rest of the book consists of the thoughts that run through his head, his inability to reconcile the insults he has heard with the knowledge of his parents’ kindness, the history of the Jews, the biblical injunction to ‘love thy neighbour,’ compounded by Christianity’s teachings of kindness and love. Worse still, as he wanders along, the boy comes across slogans such as ‘Death to the Jews,’ and ‘Dirty Jews,’ scrawled on walls, and these only serve to intensify his confusion and desolation.

Of course, the emphasis at the gathering to mark the liberation of Auschwitz was on the wholesale massacre of the Jews of Europe, and justifiably so, but Albert Cohen points out that the anti-Semitism he encountered as a child, and which came not long after the Dreyfus trial in France, was endemic throughout most of Europe, and eventually led to the Holocaust, which is now known officially in France by the Hebrew word Shoah.

And the anti-Semitism that pervaded Christian Europe even found its way to my ten-year-old self, as I lay in hospital in London, with a suspected (but eventually unconfirmed) case of scarlet fever. No visitors were allowed, though I was able to receive parcels of sweets and chocolates, and even the occasional much-yearned-for reading material. The nurses, many of them Irish, were practical, generally getting on with the job in hand without bestowing great affection on their young patients. My one consolation was being able to listen to the ward radio, with the customary sequence of light music and talk programmes broadcast in those days on the BBC’s Light Programme

One day, the bed nearest the radio became vacant, and I asked Maureen, one of the nurses, whether I could move there. She helped me with what I thought was a good will. But when I found that my arm was just too short or the bed too far away for me to reach the radio to adjust the volume, I asked if it could be moved a bit nearer to me. At that she exploded. ‘You Jews,’ she said. ‘Next thing you’ll want to sit at the right hand of God!’

I had never heard that phrase, had no idea what it meant, but knew instinctively that it was an insult. I had never been slighted before for being Jewish (or not knowingly, as there were probably others I was too naïve to recognize as such), and felt totally crushed by what the nurse had said. Alone in my hospital bed I began to cry, and just could not stop. The separation from home had been long and hard, and this was just the last straw. I continued to cry, refusing to answer the doctors’ and nurses’ questions as to the reason for it, as that was in fact something I was unable to put into words. Screens were put round my bed and medical staff peered round them at me from time to time. Eventually it was decided that I should be discharged. And so it was that at last I was able to go home and be reunited with my family.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this little incident was nothing very grave, though how a nurse can bring herself to insult a ten-year-old child in hospital escapes me. The age-old spectre of religious and cultural hatred of Jews, of being castigated for being different, the myth of their supposedly grasping nature and sense of superiority can– and does – pop up unexpectedly anywhere at any time. It makes me wonder how many of those world leaders’ declarations of ‘never again’ and ‘we will never forget’ will stand the test of time.

‘O vous frères humains’ by Albert Cohen

Albert Cohen wrote this book jn 1972 when he was eighty years old and approaching death, as he states early on in the book. It describes his experiences and emotions when, on his tenth birthday, he encountered a street vendor in Marseille, where he was living at the time. A small crowd had gathered around, and the boy was fascinated by the colourful goods the vendor was selling, so bought some trinkets with the money his mother had given him for his birthday. The vendor noticed the boy’s dark hair and eyes and began insulting him for being Jewish, telling him to ‘shove off, scum,’ and ‘we don’t like dirty bloodsucking Jews here.’ The people around him either laughed or kept quiet, adding to the boy’s pain.

Stunned and anguished, the boy left the group and wandered through the streets, trying to understand what had happened, coming up with all kinds of fantasies, analysing the epithets that had been hurled at him, and wondering why it was his fate to be so accursed and reviled.

The remainder of the book consists of the whirlwind of thoughts and ideas that go through the mind of that ten-year-old boy, associations with biblical events and characters, the history of the persecution of Jews throughout the generations. Particularly prominent is the association with Christ and Christianity, whose principal teaching is ‘love for others,’ clearly taken from the biblical injunction to ‘love thy neighbour.’ The irony of this association recurs throughout the book, as the reviled Jewish child tries to reconcile the insults that have been hurled at him and his race with his affection for his mother and other people, whom he knows to be good and kind. All the time, as he wanders aimlessly through the streets of the city, seeing people talking and laughing as they sit in cafes, his mind is churning, trying to find ways to make non-Jews like him, thinking up all kinds of wild and unlikely strategies and strategems to achieve this.

Addng insult to injury, as he wanders along, in a turmoil of emotions, the child encounters the words ‘Death to the Jews,’ and ‘Dirty Jews,’ scrawled on walls. These slogans only add to his confusion and distress, and suddenly he seems to see them wherever he turns. He is a child, but his thoughts are expressed in the language of an adult, with repeated use of a rich and varied vocabulary. The phrases used to abuse him continue to reverberate in his head, alongside his understanding of Jewish and general history, his expression of patriotic love for France, and his aching desire to love non-Jews and be loved by them.

Acknowledging that he himself was spared the horrors of the Holocaust, yet able to describe the situation and the emotions it aroused in the victims, the author points out that there is a direct line between the germ of hatred of Jews that has persisted for thousands of years and the death camps of the Holocaust in the supposedly enlightened twentieth century.

At the conclusion of the book the child returns home, only to encounter his parents as they are on their way back from the police station, where they have gone to report his disappearance. At home he tells his parents what happened as they sit in his parents’ bedroom, and the three of them weep together. In the final chapter the author issues a plea to all humankind to be kind to one another and put an end to hatred.

 

The Paradox of Life in Israel

 

Whether the sun is shining or the blessed rain is falling, our life in Israel continues to provide us with interest and amusement as well as frustration and annoyance.

Our homes, or at least those of most people, are warm and dry. The roads are well-kept on the whole, buses and trains run more or less on time, cafes and restaurants provide nourishment and shelter and the daily routine of coming and going, shopping and cooking, looking after children and/or grandchildren, attending lectures, lessons, films, theatres and concerts goes on as usual. Life on the whole, provided one doesn’t live in the area near the Gaza Strip, is reasonably pleasant. It’s only when one opens a newspaper or watches the news on TV that the black mood descends.

Because somewhere, beneath the surface, out there in the sphere of political machinations and manoeuvring, dark currents are at work. I’m talking about Israel, but I know that in other countries similar or worse trends are at work, albeit of a different complexion and intensity. I’m not comparing events in Israel with the drastic developments in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Syria, even Iraq and Iran, where people turn out in mass demonstrations to voice their dissatisfaction with the ruling elite, are beaten, arrested and even shot for daring to do so, and in many cases are even forced to leave their homes for fear of bombardment. That situation has given rise to the refugee problem that is providing us all with harrowing examples of human suffering, reminding us of what happened to Jews in Europe not that long ago and preying on our minds and consciences.

But here in Israel all is not sweetness and light. Far from it. I have always tried to present the more pleasant side of life in Israel, and it certainly exists, political differences notwithstanding. But the grim state of public life at present cannot be ignored. After all, what sane country has to hold three general elections in the space of less than a year?

The fact that Israel’s electorate seems to be almost evenly divided between those on the right and those on the centre-left is creating a situation of near-deadlock every time an election is held. Coalitions coalesce and disintegrate according to the mood of the moment and the inclination of the politicians involved, and still no firm decision can be reached.

The truth is, that a coalition, even a broad, almost wall-to-wall coalition, could in fact be reached were it not for the intransigence of one man, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The sad fact is that he has been indicted on charges of corruption, bribery and similar unsavoury actions, but as long as he is prime minister he cannot be tried before a court of law. Until a week ago he was doing his utmost to evade justice by claiming immunity, and using every trick in the book to stymie due process. In this, sadly but also inevitably, he was aided and abetted by members of his party. The details of the offences with which he has been charged are enough to send any ordinary citizen to jail, and this is obviously a fate he and they would like to avoid. The sad conclusion that seems to emerge is that Israel is being run by a cabal of corrupt kleptocrats who do not care that there is no functioning government, no budget allocations and no stable rule.

So why are Israelis not turning out in their thousands to demand the removal of the ruling elite? If Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish and even Libyan citizens are prepared to put their lives on the line to gain justice, why not us? My personal feeling is that people are either too dispirited by what they see happening, too supportive of that same cabal, or too worn down by the routine grind of earning one’s daily bread and keeping one’s head above the waves that seem to be surging all around us.

Another, third, election looms ahead in a few weeks. We can only hope and pray that this time at least a resolution of some kind can be found. If we don’t all turn out and vote the prospect is that this stalemate will continue indefinitely, with a dreaded fourth round of elections in the offing.

 

‘The Autumn Throne’ by Elizabeth Chadwick 

 

Subtitled ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine, History’s Most Powerful Woman,’ this is the second in a trilogy about mediaeval Europe. Eleanor of Aquitaine was indeed powerful, though it is arguable whether she was more powerful than, for example, Queen Elizabeth the First, who ruled England several centuries later. However, Eleanor of Aquitaine certainly lived a long and eventful life, often courting danger, yet fulfilling the role of wife to two kings and ensuring the continuation of the royal line.

In mediaeval Europe the role of women born into the nobility or royalty was to serve as pawns in the power-games played by kings and powerful nobles, being married often at a very early age in order to to cement alliances, gain property or land and obtain access to a throne. The desired consequence of such a marriage was to provide a male heir, thereby ensuring the succession to the throne, property, or title in question.

That is what happened to Eleanor of Aquitaine, a region of France, which was ruled by her father. When the latter died in 1137 Eleanor, his only child was just thirteen and inherited a large part of France. She was duly married to King Louis of France, many years her senior, and bore him two daughters. Although she accompanied him on his crusade to Jerusalem and had been a loyal wife to him, he divorced her for failing to provide him with a son. Not long afterwards she married King Henry II of England, and proceeded to bear him five sons and three daughters. Two of those sons who survived their father eventually became kings of England (Richard I, ‘Lionheart,’ and John), as did her grandson, Henry III. Several of her daughters married the rulers of European countries, thereby cementing alliances and enriching both sides.

Fortunately, the book contains a family tree showing the Norman and Angevin kings of England, starting with William the Conqueror in 1066, and continuing several generations after Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, as well as maps showing the relevant parts of England and France, helping the reader to track the various royal lines of succession and journeys made by the principal characters. In mediaeval times England and France were inextricably connected, with regions of France passing to and from England;s control and back to France, whether through alliance or conquest.

As for Eleanor herself, she was evidently both beautiful, clever and strong-willed. She always remained loyal to her birthplace, Aquitaine, even while reigning as queen of England. For several years Henry II imprisoned her in an attempt to break her spirit and persuade her to cede Aquitaine to him, but she resisted him to the end, eventually outliving him and becoming dowager queen of England. When her favourite son, Richard the Lionheart, was captured and imprisoned by Heinrich of Prussia when returning from a crusade, Eleanor worked tirelessly to raise the vast sums demanded for his ransom, and then, although over seventy years old by then, travelled through Europe to deliver it to his captor and bring her son home.

The Aquitaine region of France is vast, beautiful and rich, and it is hardly surprising that it was the object of so much avarice and disputes. The fortunes of the royal houses of mediaeval Europe ebbed and flowed with the battles, births, deaths, machinations and plots of kings and nobles, and it is interesting to note that in many instances women were the power behind the throne, playing an important role in managing the affairs of state and the state of their menfolk.

A fascinating, well-written and thoroughly researched book, and a very enjoyable and informative read.

In-Laws

So there it is. You look for a partner, and amazingly you find Mr. or Ms. Right, fall in love and get married. You think that your life is complete and all is well with the world. But you have not realised that marriage incorporates getting to know your partner’s parents and other family members, and this may fall far from your expectations. There inevitably are cultural and sociological differences, which are not always easily overcome.

I recently came across an appeal for help on a Facebook group devoted to women talking about anything that bothers them. The mother-in-law of this particular individual had a habit of descending on the young couple for a sojourn of several weeks on their living-room sofa, and this was (understandably) having an adverse effect on the marriage. Advice given ranged from getting husband to talk to his mother, accepting one’s fate gracefully, setting clear boundaries about when said m.i.l. could come to stay, or even renting a room for her in a nearby hotel. I hope something worked for her, as the poor soul sounded very distressed.

The current brouhaha over Meghan and Harry’s decision to back away from the Royal Family may be a case in point. No one knows exactly what goes on within the family concerned, but the gulf between someone who has grown up in the democratic environment of America, with its tradition of having rebelled against British rule, and anyone imbued with England’s tradition of loyalty and even love towards the Royal Family must undoubtedly have played a part.

When I first met my parents-in-law many years ago we could only smile and nod as my knowledge of Hebrew was limited and theirs of English was non-existent. As the years passed, however, I was able to understand more of what they were saying, and it was then that I realised that their way of thinking was quite unlike anything I had encountered till then. They were not unkind to me, but we simply came from very different cultures and had very different views on life. I more or less adopted their political views, but that was where the convergence ended. Once the language difficulties had been overcome, the fact that I had grown up in a different country and absorbed different values made communication difficult.

And now I myself am a mother-in-law, with all the complexity that that involves. I think I do my best to maintain good relations with my various current and former children-in-law, but I haven’t a clue as to what they think of me. I grew up in a family where good relations, polite behavior and correct table manners were important but there was little overt demonstration of affection. I think that some of my children in-law find this way of behaving strange, even alienating, but there is little I can do about it. Overt demonstrations of affection to other adults are just not part of my emotional repertoire, and any attempt to behave differently would simply be artificial and unconvincing.

So I will confine myself to trying to provide little treats and favourite foods for the in-law kids and their offspring, my beloved grandchildren, when I can, lending a helping hand whenever this is desired and refraining from interfering in their lives to the best of my ability.

I have doubts about my success as a mother, but I gather that the current mot de jour is ‘good enough.’ I may not have been a good enough mother, but at least I can try to be a good enough mother-in-law.

The Burning Bush

 

It seemed only natural, after hearing and reading about the terrible conflagration in Australia, to reach out to our friends and acquaintances there to ask how they were faring. Most sent back fairly optimistic replies, reassuring us that their lives and homes were not in danger, though the ever-present smoke made daily life less pleasant.

But one more politically aware friend sent a reply that made me realise that the situation is not quite what it seems. Yes, climate change has played a role, but it would seem that there is growing awareness that there has been negligence on the part of the leadership there.

After stating that she and her family were safe because they live in the inner cities, our friend wrote ‘Smoke is not our only problem. What is happening here is appalling but to those who listened, not unexpected.’

Thirty years ago, it transpires, there were warnings that the continued mining and use of coal constituted a danger to the country. But the profit to be gained from its export apparently outweighed all other considerations.

In addition, our friend noted, ‘we failed to have enough water bombers available and there is no central national disaster management. It’s appalling and shameful.’

She goes on to mention that in her State they have had good leadership, and that appropriate measures had been put in place in the wake of the lessons that were learnt in 2009 when, presumably, there were extensive bush fires.

From the news today I gather that Australians are organizing to demonstrate against the negligence displayed by the government. Obviously, the fact that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was on holiday with his family in Hawaii while the fires were raging hasn’t helped matters or inspired confidence in his leadership, even though he did return to Australia earlier than planned.

The situation brings to mind the devastating fire that raged on Israel’s Mount Carmel region just a few years ago, causing considerable loss of life and extensive damage to the area’s natural beauty. As the years have passed Nature has taken its course and the natural vegetation has resurged. In the meantime, however, steps have hopefully been taken to ensure that fire will not be able to destroy large swathes of land unchecked in the future.

Bush and forest fires are a feature of nature in Australia and elsewhere in the world. I personally can still remember being shocked and terrified when I was taken to see the film Bambi as a child (Bambi’s mother is killed in a forest fire). In the last year there have been fires in many parts of the world, destroying huge tracts of forests in the USA, Spain and the Amazon, for example. Farmers in France were complaining about the drout there only last summer, whereas now they are struggling to cope with the incessant rain.

Natural disasters are only…natural. Climate change may be instrumental in exacerbating them, but it’s high time we humans set about finding ways of mitigating their effects.

 

‘We Were the Lucky Ones.’ by Georgia Hunter

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is a hearfelt attempt to reconstruct the experiences of various members of the author’s family (grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins) during the Holocaust. On the other, however, the writing does not flow easily, and the fact that the narrative is mainly (though not solely) in the present tense jars on my sensibilities as a reader.

The book is divided up into chapters, each one recounting the vicissitudes of one of the characters/members of the Kurc family, first in Poland and then in the various parts of Europe and the Americas where fate finds them. Although the frontispiece of the book contains a diagram showing the relations between the members of the core family, I found it difficult to keep track of them all. Somehow, despite the author’s best efforts, they are not suffiently characterized or differentiated, which makes it difficult to keep track of who is who and where each one is at any given time. The insertion between chapters of brief factual accounts of the events of the period is helpful.

Of course, any Jew living in Europe during the Second World War was in danger, hunted down and at peril of being incarcerated in a ghetto, Nazi jail or, worst of all, a concentration camp. That sense of persecution pervades most of the book, and it is right and proper that it should do so. In addition, the different ways the various family members managed to evade capture are described in illuminating detail, giving the reader some insight into how some Jews managed to survive that terrible period.

But the quality of the writing is uneven, at best. Despite the author’s – and presumably also the editor’s – best efforts, there are far too many grammatical errors, malapropisms and unfortunate phrasings for my personal taste.  The book is touted as having been on the New York Times’ best-seller list. I find that very hard to believe, and all I can say is that if it’s true it doesn’t say much for the judgment of the American reading public.

Looking After Ourselves

“I can’t meet you for coffee this week,” my friend said. “I have an appointment with my nephrologist.”

“Nephrologist? What’s that?” It turns out my friend has a problem with her kidneys, and I didn’t have a clue about it. Cardiologist, neurologist, psychologist, whatever, they’re all part of our lives now.

Yes, we all go for regular medical check-ups. ‘We’ being women of my age, namely, seventy or older. We’re all getting on in years, doing our best to stay sane and functioning, and – most important of all – looking after our health.

So we have our annual mammography, a process involving a long session in the waiting room before we are called, then a painful few minutes as our breasts are squeezed between two glass plates to be X-rayed, followed by a consultation with the doctor who does the ultrasound. I challenge any man reading this to undergo a similar procedure on a regular basis.

But there’s more. Blood tests that often involve fasting. Tests of the various fluids and solids that emerge from our bodies. Visits to one’s GP, to discuss the results of the various tests. Trips to the pharmacy to collect the medicines that have been prescribed subsequently.

Looking after our health is taking on an increasingly important part of our lives. One’s daily routine starts with the pills that have to be taken on an empty stomach, continues with those that are consumed after breakfast, and ends with those (mainly Statins) that are best taken before going to sleep (provided one does manage to get to sleep. At least there are pills that can help with that, too).

Apart from the various medications and medical procedures, there are other aspects of life that call upon our limited reserves of energy. Exercising regularly, and preferably frequently, is just one of the things we are required to do in order to remain active and functioning. Mental agility is demanded of us too, and in order to achieve this we are advised to do crosswords or Soduko, learn languages, attend lectures, dance, sing or learn to play a musical instrument. In addition, we are told to conduct as active a social and cultural life as we possibly can, not to cut ourselves off from society, as some of us would prefer to do, and above all, to eat healthily. That last one is in itself almost a full-time occupation. We do our best, but I’m afraid I’m too weak-willed to eschew chocolate, cookies and cake completely.

So although all this is easier said than done, we’re doing our level best. When we meet for coffee we try not to discuss our aches and pains and medical conditions. We make sure to get vaccinated against flu, as the authorities keep exhorting us to do, and avoid going out when the air quality is poor. That is also something that we are advised to do by the powers-that-be.

There is some consolation in the thought that someone out there is concerned about us old folk, is looking out for us and trying to take care of our welfare. The lessons that were learned in France a few years ago, when thousands of elderly people died in a heat-wave because no one went to see how they were, seem to have been taken to heart by Israel’s health authorities and the medical profession in general.

The question that remains is, will the day ever come when we can be considered responsible adults and the masters, or mistresses, of our own fate?

Bought, Borrowed or Stolen? Art from the Gurlitt Trove

Otto Dix, self-portrait, smoking

At an exhibit entitled ’Fateful Choices: Art from the Gurlitt Trove,’ the Israel Museum’s Curator of European Art, Shlomit Steinberg, gave a fascinating talk about the history, geography, sociology and provenance of the huge collection of paintings, drawings, prints and lithographs found in 2012 in an apartment belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt, an elderly recluse living in Munich and virtually unknown to the German authorities.

By chance, the strange gentleman who occasionally travelled by train to Switzerland, where he would sell a painting, drawing or print to art dealers, was stopped for ticket inspection. He had not broken any law, he protested when asked to clarify why he was carrying a large sum of cash. Upon further investigation it transpired that he had never paid taxes, never worked, never registered at a university, never bought or sold an apartment, never married and never registered the birth of a child. Thus he had remained ‘under the radar’ of the authorities throughout his adult life.

When the tax inspectors looked further into the activities of the mysterious individual, it transpired that in addition to two apartments in Munich he owned another one in Salzburg, Austria. These were all subsequently found to be crammed full of art works of every conceivable kind and genre. Further investigation revealed that Cornelius’s father, Hildebrand, had been a gallery owner and art dealer, a known figure on the German art scene, from the 1920s until his death in 1956.

In the global media the collection was touted as ‘Nazi looted art,’ but that is not completely true. Some of the art works were paintings and drawings made by other members of the Gurlitt family, several of whom were artistically talented. As an art dealer, Hildebrand had accumulated a diverse collection of works from various periods, and some of these were presumed to have been sold legitimately to art collectors in the period of Weimar Germany. After the Nazis’ rise to power the opportunities for buying works defined by them as ‘degenerate’ multiplied, and Hildebrand was not slow to benefit from their availability and reduced price. In addition, in many cases persecuted artists or Jews felt the need to sell their art works in order to cover the heavy cost of leaving Germany. German Jews were required to submit a detailed list of all the furniture and objects in their possession, and in this way many works of art became property of the State.

Hildebrand Gurlitt was appointed an official art dealer on behalf of the Nazi regime and went to Paris to purchase or acquire works of art there. These were destined either for the museum Hitler intended to build in his home town on Linz, Austria, or to be sold to foreign buyers in order to gain much-needed foreign currency for the German war effort. After the war Hildebrand was investigated by the American authorities, and was eventually exonerated of having collaborated with the Nazis. The collection, which contained works by such artists as Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Liebermann, Toulouse-Lautrec, Courbet, Cézanne, Munch and Manet, was restored to him. After his death in 1956 as the result of a car accident, the collection passed to his widow, Helene, and subsequently to their son, Cornelius.

Cornelius Gurlitt died in May 2014, bequeathing all his property to the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern, Switzerland. Since then the collection has been exhibited in several European cities and a few pictures have been identified as having belonged to Jewish families and returned to their heirs. The exhibition currently on show in the Israel Museum will be followed by others elsewhere in order to enable as many people as possible to view it and, if their claims are confirmed, to regain ownership of works that had once been theirs. The emphasis is now on using due diligence procedures to establish the provenance of the works of art in the collection.