When the movie Woman in Gold was released last year, awareness of the efforts by Jewish families to recover valuable art looted by the Nazis during World War II was elevated substantially. The movie told the story of Maria Altmann’s quest to recover a portrait of her aunt painted by Gustav Klimt.
Altmann’s quest was not unique. The Nazis confiscated thousands of pieces of art and the effort to identify the stolen works and restore them to their rightful owners is an ongoing effort.
This year, the annual Jewish Community Relations Council communitywide Yom HaShoah Commemoration to be held on Monday, May 2, at Congregation Adath Jeshurun at 7 p.m., will focus on the efforts being made to restore these works of art to the families to which they truly belong.
“The main speaker,” said Yom HaShoah Chair Jeff Jamner, “is a professor from Northern Kentucky University, Jennifer Kreder. Her specialty is working on the legal challenges to restore art stolen during the Holocaust to the families that once owned.”
In the course of her work, Dr. Kreder came to know Randol Schoenberg, the attorney portrayed in the movie, and has worked with him. Her own work is extensive and ongoing. “Prior to entering academia,” according to her NKU profile, “she was a litigation associate with Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, LLP, in New York, concentrating on Holocaust-era inter-governmental negotiation and property litigation issues, art disputes and class actions.”
“Prof. Kreder engages in pro bono and volunteer work in which students often participate,” her profile continues. “For example, she has filed amicus briefs on behalf of the American Jewish Congress, the Commission for Art Recovery, law professors dedicated to alternative dispute resolution, Holocaust educators, Jewish community leaders, artists and art historians concerning conflicts law and U.S. executive policy in Nazi-looted art appeals (and a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court), as well as briefs regarding proper Act of State analysis in cases concerning art stolen during the Russian Revolution.”
Jamner identified the overarching theme of this year’s commemoration as “tikkun olam in that the returning of the art to the families is part of repairing the world from the deep wounds that happened at that time in history to humanity.
“It connects to our looking ahead to what kind of world we want this to be and what role we can play in it,” he continued. “It also is about bearing testimony to the Holocaust. Honoring those lives lost, those who survived and doing it as a community is part of our tikkun olam as well.”
The program will also include some elements that have become a regular part of this annual tradition. “We still want to include … sharing of a story that connects to survival of the Holo-caust,” Jamner said. “Now, we’re beginning to enter a time when there are fewer survivors to tell the tale and it’s falling on the next generation to keep those stories alive.”
In fact, Jamner’s mother, Halina Jamner, is an Auschwitz survivor, and he is going to share her story about Kol Nidre in Auschwitz. The focus, he explained, is about “the interaction in passing the stories l’dor vador, from generation to generation [and to provide a] glimpse through the window of what it was like as second generation survivor, growing up with that as part of your life.
“Sometimes stories came because we asked questions,” Jamner continued, “and sometimes spontaneously at times we didn’t expect them.”
There will be several other participants as well.
In addition to Jamner, members of the committee are Jeff Barr, Fred Gross, Shannon Kederis, Carol Klein, Cantor David Lipp, Jessica Loving, Rabbi Stanley Miles, Ranen Omer-Sherman, Daniel Penner, Derek Pugh, Dan Streit and Fred Whittaker.