More Details Other Editions 2. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4. Rating details. Sort order. In October, , the Nazis executed a mass roundup and deportation of Jews in Rome.
Only three countries Bulgaria, Finland and Denmark had lost a lesser percentage. Why was Italy more successful in protecting its Jews than so many other nations? This book is not that broad in scope, nor does it seek to be, however it offers good insight into at least a partial explanation of how so many Jews were saved. Improbable Heroes is nonfiction with a large cast of characters which, thankfully, the author lists at the very beginning.
The majority of the people in the book were real, but out of necessity, the author included a few of the victims whose names remain unknown, but their stories have been recorded in history, and has given them fictional names. Steinhouse clearly notes which those are and, where possible, the names of the actual people or compilations of people he believes they may represent. While that conflict is not the subject of this book, some discussion of it is essential to an understanding of the time, place and people involved, and Improbable Heroes does an excellent job of giving us what we need to know without veering off topic.
To avoid the discussion completely would have been much like discussing the Olympic Games without mentioning athletes. What is clear is that members of the Catholic Church in Rome played a huge role in saving some 37, Jews and it is unimaginable that this was done without at the very least passive agreement by the Pope. It is wonderfully written with continuity and well-developed descriptions of place and time, of characters we shall never know but wish we could. His expulsion from the Viennese School of Experimental Art for painting a portrait of Adolf with his own blood.
The time he'd photographed William S. Burroughs, who'd insisted on being snapped with his notorious pistol. Or Andy Warhol, a few months before he died. And, of course, there was that momentous occasion when Gottfried's " Not Worth Living ", a painting of a girl dead in her soup, brought down Dr. Grosse, Head of State Psychiatry in Austria and a one-time scientist for the Nazi's genetic modification campaign that left , children dead.
His wife Renata greeted us and went to fetch tea, leaving us to wander in the great Castle hall, surrounded by fading tapestries, ancient swords and full size portraits of the de la Poer family who had sold him the castle in My eye would occasionally drift down a stray corridor, lured by a picture I recognised from his books.
Gottfried arrived, dressed in black yet without looking Gothic. He seemed to be a man at ease in his castle. The absence of his trademark bandana suggested a day off which I reckoned unusual for an artist as prolific as he. Earlier in the week he'd been designing costumes and stage props for an operatic production in Hamburg.
He enjoys the theatrical world. It enables his creativity to tackle new dimensions. Clothes can walk, backgrounds quiver. But the world of stage is a poor one and so he keeps his theatre work to a minimum. He would like to get involved with making movies, as an actor and co-producer. Living in LA, this is not beyond the realm. Gottfried likes to know what you're at, to be as interested in you and your plans as you are in his.
I took a liking to him immediately and figured my best bet would be to just get on with the fellow well enough for me to be able to call him up and ask if I need any further information in the future. I said our proposed trip to Mexico was bound to be a clear improvement on the dark skies of Ireland. The interview began. It lasted close on 2 hours. I was told to call again if I needed anything else.
TB : How come you fetched up in Ireland? GH : We were travelling through Ireland for 14 days and looked around in a winter four years ago. I had never been here before. We landed and said lets just go through the country and if we really like it, then we'll move over here. We went to Galway first, to Connemara, and drove around. We were looking for houses and we found two we liked.
One was close to Galway, Connemara; the other was this. I was uncertain which. Connemara was the most magic place I had ever seen. I went and said this place must be Paradise. And you cannot tell why and that's the strange thing because you look around and you don't see anything. There's not much trees around. There's nothing. It's just flat. So what is it? I've never experienced being in a place and being so happy. Almost flying away. I don't know why. Why is it? It is a magic place.
That house was completely restored actually, a little bit smaller than this, Castle Gara. It was perfectly restored by a professional interior decorator, the right wall fabric, everything was perfect, but it was a little bit too perfect and so finished that I thought what should I do?
Should I rip it down or twist it so it comes closer to my taste. It was too finished. And also the ceilings were not so high and I thought where can I put my big paintings. What I liked here was the green, there's so much beautiful forestry. Before I moved here I lived in a castle close to Cologne, a castle from the year , a fortress later converted into a castle. It's a beautiful land, not totally different to this, also green, but the atmosphere, the vibrations were completely different. It's not only how something looks. You can be in a nice landscape and you don't feel great.
You can be in a desert and think you're in Heaven and you don't know exactly what it is. Here in Ireland, the vibrations are extremely good, generalising. I've been in so many different places. Ireland is a magic island. I don't know what it is but wherever you go, it has a certain soft, wonderful feeling. I always thought that here has some innocence that continental Europe lost a long time ago.
Like, some peace. TB : And you don't think that's changing? GH chuckling : I'm very very afraid that the EU will manage to fuck it up. It's now a question of how resistive the old Catholic spirit, the elves and the leprechauns and all these guys. But the EU is tough. I don't think that Irish people really realise what they're doing. They're taking everything away from you.
TB : We're selling our soul pretty quick too. GH shrugs : Lots of money comes in so everyone's happy. They're building roads that nobody needs. Its great. You're getting all this free money.
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There's just one weak point. There is no free money in the world. If someone gives you lots of money, be sure there's pay day one day. And it's soon. I don't like this. I think this island is so wonderful and so special - it's still simple. Germany is so over-regulated. If you live there, you are entangled in a web of one billion rules and laws that nobody understands.
So just by moving, you have violated ten things.
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Let's say someone in the Government doesn't like you for some reason, it'd be so easy to make you a criminal. They just have to check your records. You are under surveillance all the time in these countries. And that is not the case here. TB : Well, it's started in Dublin now. GH : Sure. But you're still behind, which is nice. In Germany, any phone call is taped by the Government so whatever you do, they know it.
And if they really want to know something about you, they go onto the computers, like in the science fiction films, and they have your profile. They know everything about you. And they can make your life miserable if they want. And I think that will be the future. If you want to get rid of dissidents, people you don't like, you can do it in a very elegant way. You just start checking the records. And then you can give them a hard time. TB : Is that why you left Austria? GH : I left Austria almost 20 years ago. Yes, I wanted to have my base in a country that's different. Southern Italy, the people, the land, and Ireland are the two countries in Europe I like most in that respect.
It's a different life. It's laid-back. In the other countries, you become a nervous wreck after a while. It's not that you can really get away from that totally. I can't and I don't want to because that would just mean hiding. I want to be in contact with the world. I want to see what's going on. It's also important for my art. It's good to spend part of my time in America because if you need that, then go to America, because that's the most advanced. I don't say that everything is bad about this future world but I also see the dark side.
There is, of course, lots of amazing, interesting, inspiring things. But there's a big dark side too, of course. TB : But you play the optimist card, I think? GH : Me, yes. You have to be optimistic. But I think its always good if you know you have a home, a base where everything is consistent. That's what I've always wanted. I can sit here in this library with all the old books, no electronics, nice fire, look out at these birds and trees. I like that.
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I suggest that demesnes like Gurteen were originally landscaped to soothe the minds of great orators and generals in other confusing centuries. GH: That's probably the case. From the Renaissance to the 19th century, the idea of houses was to create your own little world or universe. And they were also meant to hold big groups of people.
When I hear of people buying castles in France because they're rich. And they have all these empty halls. That's a shame. It's made for a tribe, a whole group. It has to be filled with people. So in summer we invite friends and artists from all over the world to come and stay. That is my plan, to make it a place where other artists and friends can come and stay. The house is big enough to have 20 people. There's enough space so nobody disturbs the other one. We can seat 20 at the dining table.
For the last two summers we had lots of friends and it was so much fun. People would come and others would go, so it changes all the time. Many of them worked back in the garden. And then we all go to the dining room for supper or lunch and you have all these interesting people. GH : Sometimes. We exchange and share ideas. We have friends who are writers. It's good to get writers and painters together. And musicians. The world's involved with these types of art are very different.
I always prefer musicians and writers to painters, but some painters are great! Are you involved at all? GH : No. TB : Rachel Whiteread? GH : I go back to Vienna very rarely. From time to time, but not often.
They've opened a Holocaust Museum? TB : Apparently. Quite recently, I believe. GH : That's good. It's a good place. They should do it. Next Summer, in Los Angeles, there is to be a week of remembrance at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, that's the Museum of Tolerance, and I'm going to make an installation there with children, big, blown up.
TB : And you have an exhibition planned for Beijing. That ought to be interesting. I used to live in Hong Kong. GH : Hong Kong?
I have been there. I liked it. We talk about Hong Kong and Asia for a while. GH : You can see how insane people can get. Pol Pot was probably the worst of all the Communists. He was completely insane. He wanted to exterminate everyone. TB : In his last interview before he died, he still maintained he'd done nothing wrong. GH : Yes, that is the worst. The biggest criminals of all have one thing in common. They feel completely good about it and have not the slightest idea that anything was wrong. I know. Eichmann was the same.
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It's very hard to listen to the guy. You can't believe it. He knows that he killed 6 million Jews. And he had done anything to get as many of them killed, turned into lampshades, soaps, things like that. He admitted it. But he says he feels very good in his heart because he was an officer and those were the orders he obeyed. I try him on the WHO head who resigned in '92 for allegations of Nazism.
GH : Yeah? I would not be amazed. The World Health Organisation is always open to people like that.
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TB : That's shocking. You think they are still rising through the ranks? GH : Yes. If you do some serious research, then you will be amazed what's really going on up there. You have to get through the world of media lies and all that shit, you know, and see what's really going on. That was always a passion of mine. That is what I've always been interested in. Politics, today?
People don't even want to know what's going on. It would be unbearable. We would find that the gap between the world we believe in, made by CNN and other of those jesters, and the real world would be a great surprise. I look at The Matrix, Enemy of the State. They are very good. He said the film Enemy of the State was 10 years ago. Today, if people knew how far they can go, they would be up for a surprise. The Truman Show. It's really interesting that they're coming up with all these films right now. It's like an unconscious feeling. And I think that's closer to the truth than CNN.
TB : And you're still trying to play the media? GH : I haven't watched television for the last year and I read. Here I try to disconnect from the world and that's good. Whenever I have to get a plane and I see the news, it is just the same, nothing changes, always the same. TB : What's your plot for Beijing? That's going to be tricky? I want to do different things. One is the children's faces, big ones, a wall with a thousand children, something like that. TB : Like Kristellnacht? GH : A different twist to Kristellnacht. I will take Chinese children.
But I will start when I get over there. With a project like that, I don't think in advance, or plan. I go there and it has to be spontaneous, very fast. When I have to think and plan, it's no good. TB : You been to Beijing? My wife was there. I have to go next year. But there is Tibet. That is also a sad thing, how they are wiping out this old culture. I would like to ask about Tibet. But if you try that, then you will not have the pleasure of being a guest of the People's Republic of China. They will kick you out immediately.
TB : Aye. But they are getting better slowly. Did you ever see Clinton's debate with Jiang Xemin, the President? GH : Clinton is a genius. I really think Clinton is one of the best Presidents America ever had. He is definitely the best communicator I've ever seen. I've never seen a politician so good at communicating. He can talk to anybody naturally. TB : You see him speak in Ireland.
He played a blinder. GH : That is it. He is so intelligent. I'm really amazed. He is also the most attacked President of all time. TB : Now then, Catholicism. You kind of missed the collapse of it all over here. But I've a feeling it's one of your pet gripes. The Hierarchy and all that. You notice much over here?
GH : Now? You don't feel anything but I know that the Roman Catholic Church obviously had a tight grip on this country. When I came, it was all over. I was raised in a Catholic family. Austria was very Roman Catholic and very suppressive actually. So I had my fights with the Church in Austria and Germany. But, to be fair, when you look from a distant point of view, of course, the Roman Catholic Church has changed the face of the planet. The influence was enormous. It was one of the most cleverly conceived organizations that ever existed. It is amazing how they used a combination of the Roman Empire administration and military strategy and the power of the spirit to create Christianity.
And that changed everything. On the one side they have committed more criminal acts and murders than almost anybody else; on the other, they spawned more art than anyone else. The Renaissance. I don't know why it is. It's an interesting phenomena. My view on the Church is now very different to what it was when I was fighting against certain aspects. I look at it now, especially after being in Italy, and I really have an admiration for it.
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This Church embraced everybody. Hitler chanced to be outside. In Germany you have a chance to experience both cultures. The south is Roman Catholic. The north is Lutheran. Austria is completely Catholic. You can see there is a difference. The Roman Catholic countries always encourage art and pictures and theatre. This is a really evil, destructive guy, a bad guy, because he wants destruction, hate only.
It was him who destroyed art. He was against dancing. A sin was dancing, laughing. They killed people who did that. History always says it is about Catholicism and Protestantism but, when you look closely, that's not fair. There are Protestants and Protestants. You have the Anglican Church which never really had a problem with the Roman Catholic Church because they are the same anyway but just they don't believe in the Pope.
They are not fanatic. There were times when they got along with the Catholic Church easy, no problem. When you look and dig, it's Calvin. I don't want to say anything against Protestantism in general but Calvin definitely, there's nothing good about this guy. I think differentiation and specification is very important. If you are too general then you can hurt people without wanting to. Look at the Klu Klux Klan, for example.
Behind that it's Calvin. When you look at these people who shoot doctors from abortion clinics, pro-life fanatics, they are all Calvinists. Whenever you see fanatic Protestants being destructive and evil, it's Calvin. Calvin is always behind that. He is the enemy of all artists because he was against art.
He destroyed all the old Dutch paintings. The Roman Catholic Church was the opposite. They tried to fight the Protestants with the Counter-Reformation, more art, bigger churches. Even though it was just propaganda for them, it was good for the world. TB : Medieval spin doctors! GH : Of course. Nothing could compete with them. There was no television, no entertainment.