Resti­tu­tion: A Fam­i­ly’s Fight for Their Her­itage Lost in the Holocaust

  • Review
By – October 3, 2011
Dur­ing the Nazi occu­pa­tion of 1939, the Reis­er fam­i­ly fled from Czecho­slo­va­kia to Cana­da, leav­ing behind almost all of their pos­ses­sions, includ­ing four paint­ings that had hung in their home in Rakovník. In Resti­tu­tion, which is set against the back­drop of his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal upheavals, from World War II to the fall of Com­mu­nism in Czecho­slo­va­kia, Kac­er exam­ines not only the sto­ry of the paint­ings, but also the Reis­er family’s attempts to reclaim them after the war. Her dis­cus­sion of the Reis­ers’ life in pre-war Czecho­slo­va­kia, includ­ing their acqui­si­tion of the paint­ings, their com­pli­cat­ed attempts to gain entry into Cana­da, their efforts to start a new life in rur­al Ontario, includ­ing chang­ing the spelling of their name from Reis­er to Reeser, and the chal­lenges that both Marie and her son Karl faced when they tried to retrieve the paint­ings 30 years apart, is sup­ple­ment­ed by images of the paint­ings, the indi­vid­u­als involved in the resti­tu­tion process, and fam­i­ly doc­u­ments that date back over 70 years. In a par­al­lel nar­ra­tive, Kac­er also explores the sto­ry of the art deal­er who aid­ed Karl with his attempts to bring the paint­ings to Cana­da. By exam­in­ing the rela­tion­ships between the mem­bers of the Reeser fam­i­ly, the often ten­u­ous rela­tion­ship between the Reesers and the fam­i­ly who hid the paint­ings dur­ing and after the war, and the rela­tion­ships between the Reesers and those who aid­ed in their escape from Czecho­slo­va­kia and in their endeav­ors to reclaim their prop­er­ty, Kac­er grap­ples with the com­plex­i­ties of two gen­er­a­tions’ attempts to come to terms with the past.

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