Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Family Treasures

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis by Simon Goodman. 

One of the wonderful  benefits of working at a public library is finding and sharing all of the really great books. My co-worker, Cheryl, recommended this book to me and for that, I thank her!


From the topic, Nazi confiscation of artwork from Jewish citizens during World War II, I was skeptical about how "readable" the book would be. I am not a Holocaust scholar, and am often intimidated by the horror of the topic. Nor am I any kind of art expert. I had one Art History class in college that I did manage to pass, over 30 years ago! I have been fortunate enough to visit several major art museums (Cleveland, New York, Florence, Venice) and stand open-mouthed in front of some truly incredible masterpieces. But I didn't think that would get me through this book.

But I was wrong! Within the first pages, I was captivated  by the author's easy, warm, almost casual style. 300+ pages and I couldn't put it down. 

It is the story of Simon and Nick Goodman, who received boxes and boxes of paperwork after their father died. Their father, Bernard, was a quiet, perhaps depressed, man who didn't connect with his sons. Living in England while growing up, the sons would often accompany Bernard on his trips to Europe. They always assumed that the trips were connected with their father's work as a travel agent. Only when they were teens did the boys learn that their grandparents were victims of the Holocaust.

Without telling you the whole story, know that the author carries you along as the men rediscover their father in the boxes of paperwork that contained his painstaking research and efforts to recover the family's stolen artwork. They encounter personal connections to the coldness and brutality of the Nazi preoccupation with stealing the great art of all of Europe. Throughout the 90's, they suffer when governments, museums, and art collectors refuse to acknowledge that art in their possession was stolen during World War II from the Goodman/Gutmann family. We celebrate along with them when a turning point comes, records open up, compassion prevails, and they are able to start recovering their family's art treasures.

But this excerpt is why I wanted to share this book with you. It appears on the very last page of the book:

"As I embarked on this quest to find my family's lost treasures, a solution to my underlying grief emerged. The more I traced our hidden artworks, the more my family's buried history resurfaced. As I placed yet one more piece of the shattered jigsaw puzzle back together, the lost lives became tangible once more. With each piece came a little renewed pride. Today I am comforted by knowing my place in all this. I no longer suffer from an isolation of rootlessness. My roots are deep and wide, with ancestors that go back many centuries and relatives on four continents."

These words are true for all of us who research our family's history. The treasures we are searching for aren't gold or silver. They are the family Bible, the needlework sampler, the military records and wills of our ancestors. They reconnect us to our ancestors in the same way. All of roots are "deep and wide" if we look for them.

Simon Goodman, author, with his family's Orpheus Clock
If you were a fan of the movies, Monuments Men or The Woman in Gold, or the books, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past or 
The Family: A Journey into the Heart of the Twentieth Century you will enjoy this book.


Lisa said...

This was fabulous! I loved the quote at the end and how you told just enough of the story to peak our interest! Lovely post! Thank you Kathy!

Sue said...

Thanks for this review! I am adding this title to my "must read" list.

Wendy said...

This sounds like an interesting and powerful story! You make a good point about the different kinds of treasures people discover when researching their family histories.