The Guggenheim’s family story as a lesson in world history.
What once took considerable time and toil—finding out from whence you came—is now but a quick click away. The Internet has made amateur genealogists of us all. Meanwhile, unearthing the stories behind the branches in the family tree, well, that still requires an awful lot of heavy digging. Consider Griffiths’ (a Guggenheim descendent) work a testament, then, to her work ethic. To be fair, a lot of the heavy lifting had already been done. Margot Löhr’s discovery of the Guggenheim File itself and Jens Huckeriede’s documentary about what the Nazis did to the Guggenheim family were already known to the author. In fact, as Griffiths says, both parties had approached her about participating in their respective projects. Not wanting to dredge up the horrors of the Shoah, Griffiths (whose father had even anglicized their last name) declined the offers. Lucky for us, she’s since had a change of heart. The author’s meticulously researched, lovingly written account has deeply personalized all prior documents that bear her surname. Along with the Rothschilds, the Guggenheims were one of the most prominent Jewish families hit by Hitler. The original Die Akte Guggenheim goes into great detail about how the Nazis, in Griffiths’ translation, “confiscated my grandparents’ business, property, land, and how they tried to subjugate their lives.” And yet, as she points out in “An Abbreviated List of Eleven Generations of The Guggenheim Family,” the existence of Felix Mendelssohn, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and of course Solomon R. Guggenheim proves that fascism never could accomplish that final goal. Many books have been written on the post-World War II Jewish diaspora; here, Griffiths’ record reveals an audit of the atrocities within a greater narrative of triumph—and it is both uniquely intimate and overwhelmingly universal.
An inspirational, fascinating chronicle of a family’s will to survive.