Jennifer S. Alderson's Blog - Posts Tagged "world-war-two"

The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery out on June 24, 2016!

I can't wait to get my second novel, a quirky art mystery, back from my editor this Friday! Last round of proofreading will be done and then its on to checking all the details before The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery hits the (virtual) bookshelves on June 24, 2016!

If you can't wait to read it either, check out an excerpt of the final, unedited version on Goodreads now: The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery

In case you're wondering what it's all about, here's the synopsis:

When a homosexual Dutch art dealer hides his gallery’s stock rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer, he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose into it.

After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition about paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, still lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later. When two women claim the same painting, the portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and quickly finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one it is and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it all.

Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.
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Thanks for pre-ordering The Lover's Portrait

THANKS to all the lovely people who've pre-ordered The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery so far! Your support has pushed my book up to no. 3 (out of 182) on Amazon's International Mystery & Crime list! Only a week to go and it will be in your library...I hope you love it!

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MysteryThrillerWeek: Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Theme

Welcome to the third of four themed posts about MysteryThrillerWeek, an annual event celebrating the Mystery and Thriller genres!

Today I’m thrilled to share with you eight books from the Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Theme, books which transport you back to Amsterdam during World War Two, Victorian England, a slave ship sailing round the Horn of South Africa, the Roman Empire, the Middle East during the 1st century C.E., America in the early 1900s, and the Wild West.

Authors Michael Smorenburg, Edwin Herbert, J.B. Richards, Khristina Atkinson, Marie Silk, Maggi Andersen, and Jane Jordan have kindly provided a description of their historical setting and story. I’ve also included information about my own historical fiction novel.

Be sure to sign up as a Super Fan on the MysteryThrillerWeek website to be kept up-to-date of all the fun games, prizes and giveaways taking place during the event, February 12 – 22, 2017:

I look forward to seeing you there!
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The Birth of a Novel by Pamela Allegretto

Pamela Allegretto

Pamela Allegretto is the author of my favorite historical fiction novel of 2016, Bridge of Sighs and Dreams, a captivating story set in Italy during World War Two. Her own experiences as an exchange student and expat living in the country of her forefathers inspired the characters, plot and beautifully described setting for her debut novel. It is a pleasure to learn more about its inception.

The Birth of a Novel by Pamela Allegretto
The tutelage of my Italian family launched my love for the Italian language the moment the first trilled “R” danced on my tongue and tickled my teeth. Animated conversations around the supper table often veered from current events to life in Italy during World War 2 and the impact the War had on our family. These conversations piqued my curiosity and planted a seed that nagged me to learn more.

I was 17-years-old when I took my first trip back to Italy with my parents. The moment the airplane touched ground, I had this overwhelming feeling of “home.” Meeting my Italian aunts and uncles in their Southern Italian village of Faicchio and listening to their personal accounts of the War sprouted that seed and it began to grow. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

Read the rest of this article now:
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Chill with a Book Award for The Lover's Portrait

I'm thrilled to announce The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery won a Chill with a Book Award and the Book of the Month Award for January 2018!!

I am deeply grateful to all of the Chill With A Book readers :)

And the verdict was:

“Well written and well researched. I particularly enjoyed how Ms. Alderson described war time Amsterdam and how the city was changed during occupation. The story describes a brutal account of how the Nazis took everything they wanted, including lives. It is also a modern day story of determination to help find the families of the paintings and arts that were stolen and lost. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be looking out for more from this author.

Highly recommended.”

How amazing is that!

(post updated with second award on January 31)
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Restitution of Nazi-Looted Artwork after WWII & The Lover's Portrait

Before moving to Amsterdam, I knew very little about the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War Two, a topic that plays a central role in my novel, The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery. Sure, I’d read about controversial cases in newspapers and wondered why museums didn’t hand over the artwork immediately when legitimate claimants appeared on the scene, but also why it took the relative of the legal owner so long to submit a claim.

Only after moving to Amsterdam to study art history did I begin to understand the complexities involved, for both the claimant and the cultural organization or government tasked with caring for the artwork until the legal owner is found.

The ‘Monuments Men’
As an art history buff, I was quite familiar with stories about the ‘Monuments Men’ discovering crate upon crate of masterpieces stored in castles, salt mines, and abandoned train carriages. This international group of civilian museum curators, art historians and other cultural specialists were officially part of the ‘Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program’ (MFAA), recruited in 1943 by the Allied Forces to track down and recover hundreds of thousands of artistic and cultural treasures stolen from art collectors, cultural institutions, businesses and individuals all over Europe.

These precious objects – sculptures, paintings, furniture, religious relics and artifacts – were brought to a series of collection points, where the ‘Monuments Men’ attempted to determine which country their former owners hailed from. In rare cases, documents were crated up with the artwork which clearly identified its last legal owner. However, the artwork’s destination was often based on a ‘best guess’ by the plethora of well-educated and well-meaning MFAA experts.

Dutch Artistic Treasures Returned from Germany
But what happened after the artwork was returned to their suspected country of origin, in this case the Netherlands?

Try to imagine it’s October 1945 and you are in Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands. Five months earlier, the city was freed from five long years of Nazi occupation. Hundreds of thousands of locals are missing or dead. Many homes are empty shells; anything of value – from furniture to floorboards – has been torn out by desperate looters, leaving rat-infested ruins behind.

The trams haven’t run in four years, not since the Nazis banned public transportation. And even if they were able to, any wood used to hold the rails in place has been torn up and burned for heating and cooking. Oil and gas are non-existent. Food has been rationed for years and most daily household products are simply unavailable.

Many government offices have been closed for months, due to a lack of sufficient personnel and the resources to keep the lights on.

And then from the far reaches of Europe, a plane full of precious artwork and artifacts lands at Schiphol airport on the morning of October the 8th. Days later, truck load upon truck load of irreplaceable paintings, sculptures, religious icons and relics, begin arriving at the Rijksmuseum, delivered into the chaos that was once the lively, well-organized city of Amsterdam.

Despite all the hardships, the Dutch government organized the first traveling exhibition of looted artwork, entitled Dutch Artistic Treasures Returned from Germany, in the spring of 1946, in the hopes of reuniting these pieces with their legal owners. In 1950, the Rijksmuseum also organized a heavily publicized exhibition of all of the artwork still unclaimed.

In order to claim their property, the claimants had to provide definitive proof of ownership in the form of a title transfer, purchase agreement, or a similar document. Considering the exorbitant value of many of these works of art – paintings by Rembrandt, Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Frans Hals, and the like – the Dutch government wasn’t making an unreasonable request.

Thankfully, many claimants were able to give their important paperwork to friends who weren’t considered ‘undesirable’ by the Nazis before the war broke out, or took them along when they went into hiding. They were the lucky ones.

Too many more of those attempting to claim their property had lost everything during the war, literally. They were sent to concentration camps, their homes stripped clean and sold off, belongings stolen, clothes burned, and loved ones murdered. They had absolutely nothing and no one left. How could they fulfill the government’s seemingly simple requirement?

Restitution of Stolen Artwork influenced by Swiss Bank Scandal
Over the years, the thousands of yet unclaimed cultural treasures entrusted to the Dutch government have been spread throughout the Netherlands, lent to regional and national museums to care for and display. As time moves on, some of these objects’ backgrounds are forgotten and they are seen as part of the museum’s collection, not a looted object whose owner still needs to be found. Some paintings and sculptures even became the highlight of the museum’s permanent collection and grace marketing posters and gift shop items. Yet many pieces ended up in depots, never to be seen by the general public again.

Fast forward to the year 2008. A shift in attitude had taken place a few years prior. Dutch museums and cultural institutions – as most of those across Europe – are now actively searching through their collections for works with a dubious provenance, earmarking any pieces which were potentially stolen from their rightful owners by Nazi troops or officers.

This was a direct result of a shocking revelation in 1995 that several Swiss banks knew they held ‘dormant Jewish WWII bank accounts’ – as they would later be referred to in court documents – yet refused to return the money to the surviving relatives because the claimants couldn’t supply the bank with a death certificate. Those murdered in German concentration camps never received one, leaving the families powerless. Only after the World Jewish Congress took up the case on behalf of several Jewish organizations, were they able to reach a settlement with the banks in November 2000, which finally agreed to return money owed to the account holders’ relatives.

Suddenly no institution – cultural or otherwise – wanted to risk being stigmatized as profiting from the atrocities of the Second World War.

Archival Research and Digital Collections
Museum researchers made tracing the histories of paintings, sculptures and relics with a suspicious past their priority. Newly-formed teams began the tedious process of reconstructing the provenance of artworks and objects, often searching through archives and libraries all over Europe to trace the paths these pieces had taken in their lifetimes.

Simultaneously, museums were beginning to digitize their collections, for the first time allowing the public access to all of their objects, including the majority hidden in their vast depots.

With all of this media interest and new information available, heirs began hiring private investigators and conducting their own research into these digitized collection databases, in the search of a loved one’s piece.

Strangely enough, Hitler’s policies have aided both Dutch researchers and the heirs of the unclaimed artwork. Adolf Hitler held the Dutch people in high regard because he considered Germans and Dutch citizens to share a common linguistic and cultural heritage. That meant his troops weren’t officially allowed to seize art or cultural objects from Dutch citizens, as they were given free rein to do in other countries, with Poland probably being the most horrendous example of their unabashed looting. Here, they had to ‘purchase’ the artwork – often from owners who were placed under duress or were blackmailed into doing so – and create official purchase contracts for the transactions. The title transfers and purchase agreements created by the Germans became important aids for researchers working to find the rightful owner, and family members trying to claim their missing pieces.

In most cases, the art and the owner’s heirs were reunited and both the museum and family found peace. Occasionally claims were fought by museum directors, who steadfastly asserted the painting or sculpture had been gifted by a reputable donor with the proper paperwork. These kinds of cases ended up in court and after long legal battles – more often than not – the claimant won.

In exceptional cases, two or more parties have submitted seemingly legitimate claims on the same object or collection. These are the ones which garner the most media attention. Stories passed down from one generation to the next, fading photographs and old letters with vague references to the painting in question are all brought into play, argued over and re-interpreted by numerous museum personnel, documentation experts, and art historians before judgement is finally reached, always leaving one party certain justice has not been served and vowing to fight the claim to the bitter end.

Author’s note: This is a brief summary of an extraordinarily complex topic. To find out more, I suggest reading any of the Dutch and English language resources I relied upon when writing The Lover’s Portrait, as well as this article. You can find a complete list in the appendix of my art mystery or here on my blog: ‘Interesting & Obscure WWII references’.
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Jennifer S. Alderson's Blog

Jennifer S. Alderson
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