“This is where my grandmother belongs” – Jewish family donates artwork to Brno museum

Ann Altman brought a painting of her grandmother Anna to Brno

A portrait of a Jewish woman called Anna Wotzilkova, who was born in South Moravia and died in the Holocaust, has been donated to the newly planned Mehrin Moravian Jewish Museum by her descendants, who now live in the United States. The painting was brought to Brno this week by her granddaughter Ann Altman:

“This picture is very important to me. It’s a portrait of my grandmother Anna Wotzilkova, who came from Znojmo. She married my grandfather Emil Löwy. The Wotzilkas owned the brewery and my grandfather owned the mill.

“They were very important citizens of Znojmo and almost all the family members were murdered by the Nazis. My parents were able to escape and the portrait was rescued by my mother’s governess, whose name was Jana Fukačová. In the 1960s, Jiří Fukač, a professor of music in Czechoslovakia, brought this portrait to my mother.”

Ann Altman, the grand-daughter of the woman portrayed says the painting hung in the dining room of the house in England where she grew up.

She herself studied in Cambridge and received her degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University, while her husband, Canadian Sidney Altman, won the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

As she grew older, Ann Altman started to think what to do with all her valuable possessions and Holocaust memorabilia:

“I have made a great effort to find museums and archives where the material that I have would be well taken care of. As soon as I realised that there is to be this museum in Brno, it was clear to me that this is where my grandmother belongs.

“And all the family agreed that this was the best place for a portrait like this, which is of interest not only because it’s my grandmother, but because it’s by Emma Löwenstamm, who is a Jewish woman artist, which was very unusual in the early 1900s.

“I also realised that only through education can we eliminate racism, sexism and antisemitism. We have to talk about it, we have to show young people portraits of innocent people like my grandmother because when they think about the Holocaust, they don’t think about people like her.”

Ann Altman brought a painting of her grandmother Anna to Brno | Photo: Tomáš Kremr,  Czech Radio

Earlier this week, Ann Altman, who is 75, travelled over six thousand kilometres from the United States to Brno to personally donate the painting to the museum.

“I measured the dimension carefully and I realised that if I had it cut down, the area would be half as much and the weight would be half as much. It was rather more impressive in its original form, but making it a smaller frame enabled me to carry it on the airplane from New York to London, from London to Vienna, from Vienna to Brno here we are….”

It will be now stored in the museum’s archives before becoming part of the permanent exhibition of the Mehrin Moravian Jewish Museum, which is due to open in the near future.

Meanwhile, the museum will try to acquire another painting that belongs to Ann Altman’s family. It is a picture of Helena Wotzilka Strauss, Anna Wotzilka’s sister in law, who was also murdered by the Nazis:

“There is a portrait of her larger than this that was too big for anybody to loot or take away and it was left in Brno during the war. That painting is now in the Museum of Southern Moravian in Znojmo.

“There is no legal way that that museum can actually own that portrait. They couldn’t have bought it from anybody who owned it legally because it belongs to our family. I do not want take possession of it for myself or my family and I don’t want to take it back to America.

“What I want to see is that portrait coming to Mehrin because it has the same history in a sense as my grandmother’s portrait. And I would like to reunite Anna with her sister in law Helenka Wotzilka Strauss. And I believe it is ethically and morally right that the museum should surrender it so that it can be here where it belongs.”