Friday, October 10, 2014

The past merges with the present

Last February I got an e-mail from a woman who said she had found me via this post on my blog. 

Julia identified herself as a Provenance Researcher in Vienna, Austria.  I had no idea what a provenance researcher was, but came to learn that provenance is a “record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality.” Julia, it turns out, had been researching the provenance of some pieces from my grandfather’s art collection that came to the museum for which she works between the years of 1938 and 1945. 

Julia’s specific task, I learned, was to make sure that the pieces in question were not sold by my Jewish grandfather under duress.  It turns out that Austria has a law that states that “items from Austrian federal museums and collections, which became federal property because or as a result of the NS-tyranny, (be returned to) their original owners or their rightful heirs.”  (Germany has a similar stipulation, though it is not a law.) Because my grandfather Carl was a prominent Jewish art collector in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, and because some of his art had ended up in an Austrian federal museum, Julia was charged with researching the provenance of these pieces.

Coincidentally, our family trip to Europe in May of this year included a stop in Vienna, so I offered to meet with Julia.  Remember this?

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I never knew my grandfather, so any connection to him at all was a welcome one. To meet someone whose job it was to learn more about Carl was such a treat and I devoured any and all information she could provide me. I also really came to like her in the brief two hours we spent together in Vienna and we promised to stay in touch.

In June, while I was visiting my father, Julia asked me whether I thought my dad would be willing to meet with her in person, at his home in Oregon.  I was thrilled with the prospect, but had a few questions – as, of course, did my father. Our biggest question was, “WHY?”  What on earth warrants an international trip to a small town in Oregon, simply to talk with my father? The answer to that, it turns out, is fairly simple: People who lived during WWII and had significant personal experiences are dying out. My father is still alive and very much has his wits about him.  With a Jewish father and an Aryan mother (a so-called “mischling,” or “mongrel”), he came from unusual circumstances which, it seems, warrant further exploration. 

My father hadn’t talked much about his experiences over the past 50 years and I didn’t know much about my grandfather.  But my father HAD saved boxes and boxes of documents and mementos from his youth which he always hoped would someday be relevant again. Perhaps that day had come. I convinced my father of Julia’s valid and altruistic intentions and he cautiously agreed to meet with her, come late September.

I can’t yet provide details of that visit, other than to say it was productive, inspiring, and engaging for all of us.  What I CAN do is show some photos of our time with Julia both in Seattle, where she stopped over before her visit with my father, and in Oregon, with my dad as well as exploring some of the sites.

Getting to my dad’s place from Vienna requires a stop over in a big city like…well, like Seattle!  We loved showing Julia some of our favorite Seattle sites.

Snoqualmie Falls…

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Wine tasting at Chateau Ste. Michele…

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Pike Place Market…

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The waterfront…

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Our own museum, SAM (Seattle Art Museum)…

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Pioneer Square…

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(…where Peter and Aleks met up with us at a great German restaurant called “Altstadt…”)

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And of course, at the Space Needle…

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…where Kat joined up with us.

(Yes, we so missed Elisabeth, who has moved to the Bay Area to go to graduate school to become a CRNA, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.)

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Julia can now call herself an honorary Seattleite!

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Then off we went to visit my dad in Oregon!

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Unfortunately, this is as close as we could get Julia to Mt. Rainier …

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…and to Mt. St. Helens, during her short visit.

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Finally, they meet! It was a fast and warm friendship.

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They quickly got to work!

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What a detective she is! 

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For quite a few days, Julia and my dad worked together, exploring long-forgotten documents and discussing long-ago memories.

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Once their work was finished, there was time for a quick trip into the Oregon forest and on to Crater Lake.

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Of course, Julia had to fly back to Vienna from Seattle as well, so we fully took advantage of one last day together, both at our house…

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…and during another quick visit to Seattle. 

The Chihuly Glass Gallery…

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…and the Olympic Sculpture Garden.

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This blog has brought me many new friendships and I am so grateful for each one of them.  This one, though, spans space and time, bringing me closer to a grandfather I never met and to some fascinating family history. 

It has also brought me a wonderful new friend whom I have come to love and so appreciate! 

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Thank you, Julia! Come back soon! 

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