Did you see the movie The Monument Men? Or read anything about the German Reich looting artworks, and finally stashing it in undisclosed locations? This is another story about the Monument Men, told from a German woman’s perspective.
It is 1945 in Wiesbaden, Germany. Anna and her six-year old daughter Amalia are living on scraps, sharing a one room apartment with her elderly aunt. Anna’s husband, a psychiatrist, is still in a Russian-controlled area working in a hospital there. Anna sold what she could and after a huge fight with her husband, who refused to leave, managed to acquire a broken down truck in order to travel to her aunt in Wiesbaden. The truck broke down 20 kilometers outside of the city, and she and her daughter walked the rest of the way, hoping that when she arrived that her aunt would still be alive and able to take them in.
She gets a job as a typist at the nearby museum which has been turned into a collecting point for the artworks the Americans are finding all over Germany. There is a new law in place: no artwork may change hands under any circumstances, not even between friends or family, until further notice. The goal of the Monument Men is to sort out what is found, and redistribute it back to its rightful owners, or the families of the deceased owners, many of them being Jews, before the trade in artworks begins again.
The second in command of the place needs a translator for the field, when he goes out to investigate reported stashings of work in various abandoned houses, churches, etc., and learns that Anna speaks flawless English from her years living and going to school in London before being forced to return to Germany.
The story is all about the black market for art, the clandestine operations, and life in 1945 Germany, just at the time when Japan surrendered. It is about the guilt felt by the citizens, complicit in their knowledge of the camps and the possessions taken by the Nazis. Anna struggles with this guilt, having living right outside the Theresienstadt camp, and feeling that the German people should all suffer for their actions and lack of actions, that they are all guilty.
It is a poignant story of the characters involved: the Monument Men, the starving German people, forced to deal with the black market for scarce food, Anna, her daughter, her Aunt, who remembers such better days, and the closet SS people who still believe in the purity of the Nazi policies.
The title is really interesting. It is from the idea that although the ground may be covered by winter’s dead and decaying debris, they cover the roses which will appear in the spring. And thus, although Germany is covered with the blood and debris of war, as it is cleaned up, the flowering spirit of its people will once again bloom.
It is really not only a page-turner, but a sad one, and one that can serve as a warning as to what can happen when we ‘let George do it’. Freedom is everyone’s responsibility, None of us are entitled to it for nothing.