Actress Dame Helen Mirren. (AP)
(CNSNews.com) – Oscar winning actress Dame Helen Mirren told CNSNews.com on Tuesday that the actions of ISIS in Iraq and Syria show that “when people want to eradicate the history of a people, they go for their art,” which “makes us understand how important art is, you know, in human endeavor and human existence.”
Dame Mirren testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in favor of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, which would aid the rightful owners in their recovery of artwork stolen from their families by the Nazis.
She was addressing a comparison made by Senator Christopher Coons (D-Del.) of the looting by the Nazis to ISIS which, he said, “is doing very similar things, it’s looting and destroying cultural artifacts of an entire region.”
“There was a comparison about ISIS and kind of the erasure of history going on there with the Christians in Iraq and Syria -- would you say that’s an apt comparison and what can the world do to respond to this sort of thing now?” CNSNews.com asked.
“Well it’s a different comparison but absolutely it’s very interesting, isn’t it, that when people want to eradicate the history of a people they go for their art,” Mirren replied. “That is, I guess, where the comparison stands and it makes us understand how important art is, you know, in human endeavor and human existence.”
Mirren starred in the 2015 film Woman in Gold, which told the true story of a Jewish woman, Maria Altmann, who fled the Nazis in Vienna during World War II and later spent decades trying to recover her family's lost artwork, which included a portrait of Altmann’s aunt by Gustav Klimt known as "Woman in Gold."
“The looting of art by the Nazis was in some ways a piece of their larger horrific campaign to destroy an entire people and their entire culture. Today we’re engaged in a conflict with ISIS which is doing very similar things, it’s looting and destroying cultural artifacts of an entire region,” Sen. Coons said during the hearing.
He asked Mirren how she saw the impact of the bill “not just on those who are the victims of Nazi actions” but “on the appreciation in the world of the value of cultural treasures?”
“When I was engaged in the film and having to imagine and really live in that, in the world that Maria had to live in and her memories, I thought, my God, this is happening to people as we speak, this is happening to people,” Mirren replied.
“People are banging on doors and walking in and taking lives, but also trying to take people’s history away from them -- and as the sort of horrors of what happened in the Second World War as I grew up and began to learn about them and understand more and more the thing that really affected me the most, and does to this day, is the idea of losing all trace of your existence on this planet,” she added.
“This is why I feel very strongly that this has nothing to do with money,” said Mirren. “It so happens that, yes, some of these works of art are worth a lot of money but it’s so much more to do with reclaiming your place in human history.”
“I was thinking today that it was like someone going into those beautiful caves in the South of France, you know, where you have the cave paintings -- that’s all we know of those people are those paintings -- and going with a knife and scratching them out, saying we don’t want to remember you, you’re gone, you’re finished and so, yes, it’s happening as we speak and it’s something that we must be eternally vigilant against, eternally,” she said.