We went to see Monuments Men last night, and while I liked it, the film also left me disquieted. There was little mention of concentration camps, save a barrel of gold fillings, ostensibly extracted from prisoners after they were murdered. Instead the filmmakers emphasized saving the art stolen by the Nazis as a necessity to preserve the treasures of the world. Certainly, the Americans returned what they could to those who hadn’t perished, dispelling a fear held by one of the French resistance characters. But it seemed more important that a Renoir was saved than the Rothschild who had owned it.
Maybe I’m being too hard. It’s difficult to tell when a film is adapted from a book you haven’t yet read if the movie is faithful to the original. I hope that when I get to it that the actual Monuments Men were also trying to preserve the legacy of those who had hung that art above a mantel. I’m encouraged by a scene in the movie when Matt Damon’s character returns a portrait to an empty apartment, clearly emptied of its occupants by the Gestapo. He’s told, “They’re not coming back.” He answers, “I know, but this is what I pledged to do,” as he hangs the painting back on the wall.
I’m reminded of a book I read years ago based on recipes that were smuggled out of a concentration camp. In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy of the Women of Terezin is filled with instructions on how to make everything from kugel to tortes, but it’s not a recipe book. The women who shared their kitchen secrets with each other before falling asleep at night were too tired and hungry to remember with enough precision for these recipes to be replicated, but Cara de Silva saw their importance as a means of honoring these women and the millions of others who were murdered.
It’s why I keep a sugar bowl from my great-grandfather’s restaurant, my mother’s nursing pin, my father’s college diploma. Though my relatives didn’t mean a tragic end, these pieces are priceless to me. They prove they existed. They mattered.
I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. It’s not too late to join in.