June, 2009

Reason For Rechnitz Silence Revealed

After twenty months of squabbling, discussing, debating and lecturing, many Swiss, German and Austrian academics, film-makers, journalists, politicians, ‘chariticians’ and even a playwright, have still failed to come up with a plausible reason why the people of Rechnitz have allegedly remained so unforthcoming concerning the details of the massacre and burial of two hundred Hungarian Jews in the grounds of Rechnitz Castle in 1945. I never found the people of Rechnitz unforthcoming, but for those who claim they did, I can now reveal the reason for their silence.

Shortly before I issued my statement at the Elfriede Jelinek Research Centre at Vienna University on 5 May 2009, Caroline Schmitz and I met with Professor Pia Janke and her assistant, Christian Schenkermayr, for a drink at Cafe Griensteidl. We were also joined by Teresa Kovacs, a tutor and research associate at the Centre. Most importantly, unlike any of the aforementioned ‘experts’ who claim to have been studying the massacre, Teresa was born and bred in Rechnitz. Her grand-parents worked for Countess Margit Batthyany (nee Thyssen) while her father always spoke openly to her of the tragedy.

Why Teresa chose me as a messenger should have been no more of a puzzle than why Rechnitz originally chose me, via their historian, Professor Josef Hotwagner, to tell their side of the story; or what they were prepared to tell me at the time. Perhaps she also realised that I didn’t and don’t suffer from a conflict of interests. A rare qualification indeed. Particularly in Austria.

But before I decided to publish her statement, I first wanted to see if any of the opinions aired at the Eisenstadt Symposium on 16 October 2008, or the recent series of lectures and discussions at the Jelinek Research Centre would include her explanation. So far, despite the potential immediacy of the internet, nothing has been revealed concerning what was said, apart from an apparent reassurance that reports of the two symposiums would be written, printed, bound and distributed to an undefined readership at some indeterminate time in the future.

When I read a recent article by the Austrian writer Martin Pollack in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, once again questioning the motivation of the people of Rechnitz ‘withholding information’, I was somewhat surprised that a man, who had found it so difficult to reveal his own family history, should be asking such a question, rather than supplying the answer. But it also occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t so much the people of the town who were secretive, as the plethora of ‘experts’, who had proved so reluctant to accept the truth.

I believe the reason why Ms Kovacs had decided to tell me what everyone in Rechnitz knows, is because she wants the public to know now. Not in another sixty years’ time.

So this is what she told me that afternoon at Cafe Griensteidl:

‘While Countess Batthyany was in Rechnitz, there was always money around. Her name was never spoken of in connection with the atrocity, only ever in connection with wealth and the beautiful Castle. Basically, the Countess continued to give money and plots of land away to people in Rechnitz right until the 1980s, practically until the day she died’.

It was so wonderfully clear, simple and obvious, it really shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me. I already knew that Margit’s father, ‘Baron’ Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, had ‘primed the pump’ by bequeathing a plot of land, a specific plot of land, to his Rechnitz forester.

The Castle had always been the very heart and soul of Rechnitz. Without it, the town should have died, but the Castle’s continued existence would have been a memorial to the atrocity. Now, while Margit Thyssen’s money ensured the town’s survival, the ghost of the Castle continues to haunt the town.

As Teresa put it so beautifully: ‘The Castle has gone….but it is still there!’ Elfriede Jelinek could not have put it better.

Vienna, 2009

Vienna, Burgring, 2009

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Brian Sewell Exposes Thyssen Fake But Not Norman Rosenthal

It is a well-known fact that within the money-obsessed art market, exposing fakes is rarely going to make you friends and certainly little in the way of a profit, which is the main reason why my questioning of many of the paintings in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has been met with such deafening silence; particularly in Spain.

It was thus somewhat reassuring when Brian Sewell, the Evening Standard’s legendary art critic, recently took it upon himself to not only expose a painting from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection claimed to be by Edward Wadsworth as a fake, and question Tate Modern for including it in their ‘Futurism’ exhibition (until 20 September), but also to reveal the reason for such dishonesty.


Unfortunately, he didn’t question Norman Rosenthal, veteran Exhibitions Secretary at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and now ‘freelance curator to international museums and galleries’, who has been a member of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation in Madrid for some 8 years. How could Rosenthal let ‘Wadsworth’s’ ‘Vorticist Abstraction 1915’ be included in the Tate Modern exhibition? Was it done because its inclusion might ‘give (the painting) respectability’, as Brian Sewell suggests?

It seems clear that Rosenthal is a man who may be sailing dangerously close to acting as both poacher and game-keeper. Indeed, he raised more than a few eyebrows with an article in The Art Newspaper of December 2008, where he advocated the introduction of a statute of limitations on the restitution of Nazi-looted art.


My letter to the editor of The Art Newspaper has remained unpublished; until now:

‘8 December 2008
Dear Sir,
Sir Norman’s article concerning Nazi-looted art in your latest issue is fascinating more for what he doesn’t say than for what he does. Surely, the fact that he is a trustee of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum must present him with a conflict of interest; particularly now that the full extent of the Thyssen-Bornemiszas’ involvement with Göring and the Third Reich has been revealed, and a number of paintings in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection are believed to qualify as Nazi-looted art.
This is a fact that cannot have escaped Norman’s attention, particularly in the case of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum’s Pissarro painting ‘Rue St Honore, Afternoon, Effect of Rain’, which is the subject of a legal action for retrieval by the Cassirer family.
Under the circumstances, Sir Norman’s call for a statute of limitations could unfortunately be seen to be motivated more by his professional interests than his moral judgement’.


Another Fake Thyssen-Bornemisza (nee Wadsworth) ?

Another Fake Thyssen-Bornemisza (nee Wadsworth) ?

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