When I was 10, my mother took me to see the United Nations. There, I saw this amazing building along the East River and viewed the Isaiah Wall, which my fourth-grade teacher had talked about. The Isaiah Wall has the famous quotation from the Old Testament, Isaiah 2:4 "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift of up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
After meeting and getting to know so many Holocaust survivors, seeing one of the few the positives of World War II, the United Nations fascinated me. I could not have imagined someday working out of that building. Having spent almost a quarter century in the talk-radio industry, I am familiar with the anti-United Nations accusations. The most familiar is the "black helicopter" theory that the United Nations was planning on taking over the world and was patrolling the United States in black helicopters. Nothing could be further from the truth. As any staff member or journalist working at the United Nations can tell you, the United Nations would never be capable of running the world, or being able to execute a plan to do so. Like any large deliberative body, there are too many competing factions. It could never run the world.
Argentina, my favorite of the countries I have visited, reminds me of the United Nations. It is a microcosm of humanity. You have grandmothers lining up in front of the presidential palace, protesting their disappeared family members, and you have some of the bad guys still roaming around who made them disappear. You have a visible Jewish community, and you have family members and children of the Nazis who persecuted Jews in Europe. (Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina.) The United Nations is similar. The Security Council has some questionable non-permanent members. These questionable member states have been taken to task by many people for lack of transparency in government, lack of freedom of the press and human rights records. For better or worse, the United Nations is a cross section of humanity as it exists.
Advertisement - story continues below
This cross section of humanity was evident this week, a remembrance of the Holocaust. The United Nations, founded in a large part because of the horrors of the Holocaust, has a current exhibit of survivors titled "Life after Survival," as well as an exhibit on torture. This past December, the U.N. hosted an exhibit titled, "Palestinian Children: Overcoming Tragedies." The United Nations has been criticized by some for being anti-Israel and, therefore, anti-Semitic. It certainly has a seesaw approach from its member nations on issues of refugees around the world as well as Israel and Palestine.
It was in this spirit of this cross section of humanity that I went to see the movie "Woman in Gold" at the United Nations this week. The World Jewish Congress and the Weinstein Company supported it. It is the story of one woman's attempt to get back the art taken by her family by the Nazis. Her aunt was the subject of the "Woman in Gold" portrait by Gustav Klimt that hung in her family home in Vienna. It is the story of her escape from Vienna, her family and one young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, who quit his job to pursue the return of the art. The movie depicts the humiliation of the Jews, the arrival of Hitler into Vienna and the cooperation of the local government in destroying and killing the Jewish population.
Toward the end of "Woman in Gold," we see Mr. Schoenberg winning the jurisdictional case before the Supreme Court and an Austrian mediation group deciding to repatriate the art to Maria Altmann. My cousin, Milt Wolf, was the first Jewish ambassador to Austria, appointed by President Carter. Like Germany, Austria changed. My cousin was welcomed there, and in residence of the embassy was the photo of the house my father had grown up in. The house is now in Poland, having been in Russia and Germany but never having moved.
Germany is now at the forefront of protecting refugees and allowing for press freedom. The showing of "Woman in Gold" at the United Nations reminds us of the mission and work of the U.N. "Woman in Gold" was shown at an important time. Although there is constant debate about the status of refugees and who should be opening the doors for them, "Woman in Gold" reminds us that solid citizens exist all around the world and deserve the protection and support of the U.N. and its member nations. The time is now.
Advertisement - story continues below
Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].