The Lady in Gold is the story of Maria Altmann; not just her quest to regain custody of the painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, but also her harrowing escape from Nazi occupied Austria. O’Connor delivers an exhaustive outline of the Bloch-Bauer family tree as well as other prominent Jewish Austrian families, there are a lot of names to keep track of (like any book that delves into upper crust society) and it gets dry in a few parts but overall it is an interesting read.
There is insight into Adele and Gustav Klimt’s relationship as well as the relationship between Adele and her husband, Ferdinand. Adele’s sister, Therese, and her husband, Gustav, have two daughters, Maria and Luise, that the childless Adele doted on before her death at a young age.
But the primary story is Maria’s. Maria was a newlywed when Hitler came to Vienna. After only ten days of marriage Maria’s husband, Fritz, was taken hostage by the Nazis as leverage to get business titles from his father. He endured life in prison and a concentration camp before getting back to his wife who was essentially under house arrest. They managed to escape their Nazi guard and made their way to safety in the United States. During this time Adele’s portrait, along with several other works of art including additional Klimt paintings, were stolen from the family home.
Having money didn’t help you in 1940s Austria, not if you were Jewish, if anything, it made your situation harder. O’Connor tells the disturbing tales of various prominent Jewish families and their fates before bringing the reader into the more present day.
Decades later Maria hooks up with her friend’s grandson, a lawyer, in an attempt to get her family’s priceless works of art back from the Viennese government. It’s a long process that is eventually successful and the story was made into a perfectly OK movie starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds and Tatiana Maslany.