A Great-Granddaughter's Legacy

My Visit to Eureka’s Temple Beth El

Several months ago I called Temple Beth El in Eureka, California. I told them about my project and explained I visit Eureka fairly often for business and suggested that perhaps we could coordinate so that on one of my visits I might share the Moshe Rynecki story and my quest for my great-grandfather’s lost art with their congregation. They seemed interested and a plan was put in motion to find a date for my visit.

photo 5I am not a member of Temple Beth El, but my call to the Temple was not exactly a cold call to the synagogue. I knew before I phoned that grandpa George (Moshe’s son) was involved in the formation of Beth El. What I did not understand when I made the call was that not only was grandpa George part of the Beth El community, but that he was once the President of the Jewish Community of Humboldt County in 1954 and that he was instrumental in the push for the community to establish a Temple in the city of Eureka.

The Temple is a lovely building and, interestingly, is just down the street from the home grandpa George built in the late 1950s-early 1960s. My father and I are certain grandpa found the land for the Temple as he took a stroll around the neighborhood or while on his drive into work. The property is that close to where the family lived. The property was purchased outright by the original founders and was built without a loan. This is thanks to grandpa George (he died in 1992) who insisted the building be built out of cash. Those who know and remember this detail fondly thank grandpa with the nickname, “no mortgage” George.

photo 3It turns out my family’s ties to the building itself and Temple Beth El are deeper than the purchase of the land and the building of the structure (which, it was pointed out to me yesterday, was done with the finest nails and which used redwood bearing no knots). The Temple’s first Torah was one that came as a survivor of the Holocaust from Czechoslovakia. And, in fact, my father retrieved this Torah from San Francisco airport when it arrived in the late 1960s and personally drove it north to deliver it. This photo shows Rabbi Naomi Steinberg speaking with my father, Alex Rynecki, about the Torah and how my father delivered it to Temple Beth El. There is also a framed certificate on the wall that tells the history of the Torah.

The building of the Temple and the delivery of the very special Torah to the congregation are very important and personally meaningful to me, but there was one other item at the Temple yesterday that really moved me and made me feel like the project had, in a way, come home. On the bimah is an electric menorah (which grandpa George commissioned to be created) and at the base of a menorah is a plaque which reads: “In Memory of Moshe Rynecki, Scholar, Artist, Martyr, killed during World War Second, together with Six Million of his brothers and sisters, IV [April] 1967.


Finding Moshe’s Art

The Times Standard of Eureka, California ran an article, Finding Moshe’s Art (PDF), about the upcoming Chasing Portraits talk at Temple Beth El.

Finding Moshe's Art

The Moshe Rynecki Project Hits the Airwaves on KHSU

Through the Eyes of Women is a radio show based out of KHSU in Arcata, California. Several weeks ago they interviewed me about Moshe Rynecki’s art and the Chasing Portraits documentary film project. The interview aired Monday 8 September 2014. Did you miss the show? No problem! The show, “Brenda Starr Welcomes Filmmaker & Archivist Elizabeth Rynecki Discussing The Quest For Her Great-Grandfather’s Lost Art Legacy From Holocaust Poland” is archived on their website.

j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California – the calendar!

A big THANK YOU to j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California for not only including my upcoming talk at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in their calendar, but making it their “j.pick.” The talk is Thursday 4 September at the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum. The talk begins at 6pm. Please register online with the event sponsor, ArtTable.

A Story Across Generations

My search for my great-grandfather’s lost paintings is neither hopeless nor quixotic: I have found dozens of lost works, and have evidence that at least several dozen, and possibly hundreds, remain to be found. But it’s just not possible to find more of the lost art on any sort of timetable. Instead, there is a lot of waiting for something to happen. In between discoveries in my own search I sometimes am connected to other people’s wonderful quests. This post is about one of those stories.

As many readers know, in October 2013 I made the remarkable discovery of the Otto Schneid archive at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. The archive has letters written by my great-grandfather and photographs of several of his paintings (the four presented here are from the archive). As a result of my learning about the Otto Schneid archive, I also connected to one of Schneid’s sons, Adam, and his wife, Chaia. In June I visited them in Canada and we had a lovely visit where we marveled at our finding one another and the history that links our two families. I think I kept saying, “imagine if Otto and Moshe could see us sitting here together in a restaurant…” and we all just shook our heads, all a bit shell shocked at our having found one another.

My connection with Adam and Chaia has now led me to another fabulous story. This one is not a Moshe Rynecki story, but it is a lovely and delightful one from Chaia’s cousin, Lil Blume, and her search for her grandmother’s lost story. All of Lil’s life she had heard her grandmother wrote articles and stories for Yiddish publications, but she’d never seen or read any.  Eventually she went searching for one and discovered a tale of her great-grandfather’s antiquarian Jewish bookstore in Warsaw in the 1890s.  The story is a historically important and charming glimpse into a lost world.

I very much enjoyed the story Lil’s grandmother wrote, but it is the stories behind the story that I particularly love about Lil’s tale. In her piece, Writing in the Family, Lil shares the path of her search and the people along the way who helped her. My favorite line in the piece is, “I sent an email to the library telling them about my search and received a response ten minutes later as if they had been waiting to hear from me.” This line gave me the chills. I’ve had very similar experiences and it always makes me wonder what else is out there that we just don’t know how to access.

As if Lil’s find of the story wasn’t enough, she has another marvelous story-behind-the-story which she shared with me in an email:

The story of finding my grandmother’s writing was published in an anthology called Living Legacies: A Collection of Writing by Contemporary Canadian Jewish Women, Volume II, ed. Liz Pearl, PK Press, 2010. I read my story at the launch and when I was done, a woman in the audience said “I knew your grandmother.”

I thought she was mistaken and that she must mean my mother, who is still active at 87.

“No,” the woman said, “I knew your grandmother. We used to visit your grandmother all the time when I was a child. This woman then named my aunt and uncles.

It turns out the woman was the daughter of the Canadian Yiddish poet YY Segal. Segal had been a great friend of my grandmother and took his young daughter with him when he visited. I talked with her after to see what I could learn about my family. She spoke of how poor my grandmother’s family were. She said, “The Halperns were poor. Everyone was poor. But the Halperns were more poor.”

I love stories like these. It is, as Lil wrote to me, “fascinating and grounding finding the creative works of our ancestors.” Indeed. Our searches continue.

Interwar Years Warsaw News

So much of the information uncovered and discovered about my great-grandfather’s art and life comes to me from people who so very kindly help me out. These, “friends of the Moshe Rynecki project,” as I’ve taken to calling them, help to move my project forward. An enormous thank you to ALL who have helped in so many ways including making finds, doing research, offering translations, suggesting useful websites, and connecting me to more people!

Today’s post is made possible by a man in Poland (thank you, Piotr Nazaruk!) who researched a database on Polona.pl (the Polish National Library) and found these articles that mention my great-grandfather. Below is a listing of the articles in the years they were published, a brief sentence if they contain more than just my great-grandfather’s name [I've put his name in bold], and photos of all the clippings.

I sometimes get asked the following: (1) How famous was your great-grandfather? and (2) Who were his contemporaries? Newspaper clippings like these that begin to shed light on these questions. 

Please visit the News Coverage page to see more.


Walne Zebranie Stow. Zyd. Artystow Plastykow W Polsce [General Meeting. Jewish Artists in Poland]. Note: This article is about elections to the board of directors of the Jewish Society for the Propogation of the Fine Arts. To the audit committee were elected: Welczer-Szweigerowa, M. Rynecki, Z. Herszman, M. Bengis.



Jutro Otwarcie Salonu Dorocznego Z.T.K.S.P [Annual Exhibition of the Jewish Society for the Propogation of Fine Arts Opens Tomorrow]

Salon Doroczny. Zyd Tow. Krzewienia Sztuk Pieknych [Annual Salon. Jewish Promotion of the Fine Arts] A rough translation of the part that talks about Moshe Rynecki, “Representing the naturalism school of painting are R. Mundlak, St. Uzdanski, and M. Rynecki.”

Dzis Uroczyste Otwarcie Salonu Zimowego [Today Opening Ceremony of Winter Salon]

Kronika Zydowska. [The Jewish Chronicle]

Wystawa Zyd. Tow. Krzewienia Sztuk Pieknych [Jewish Exhibition Promotion of the Fine Arts]. Rough translation of information about Moshe Rynecki says, “M. Rynecki, though also an impressionist, has a tendency toward stylization and decorativeness of color, which sometimes resembles art of W. Tetmajer (Ślub/ The Wedding).”

Salon Wiosenny. Wystawa Zyd. Tow. Krzewienia Sztuk Pieknych [Spring Salon exhibition. Jewish Promotion of the Fine Arts]

Otwarcie Salonu Wiosennego Sztuki Zydowskiej [Opening of the Jewish Art Spring Salon]

Z Salonu Zydowskiego Prac Artystow Zydowskich [From the Jewish Salon. Jewish Artists]

September Talks

I am excited to announce two September talks featuring the Moshe Rynecki project, Chasing Portraits!

First up….

San Francisco, CA

4 September 2014
Art Lost: The Search for Moshe Rynecki
Sponsored by ArtTable, the talk is at the Contemporary Jewish Museum – 736 Mission Street (between 3rd and 4th Streets)
Check in begins at 5 pm. The program starts at 6pm.
Details and registration


And then I’ll be in Northern California…

Eureka, CA
14 September 2014
Temple Beth El— 3233 T Street Eureka, CA



Here’s a Rynecki quest mystery for you, in real time. There’s a Polish ebay-like website called Allegro.pl and there’s a drawing/painting that seems to be by my great-grandfather that I’ve just discovered. It *was* for sale. In other words, while I can see the image on Googleimages, I cannot access the selling record on Allegro.pl, where I might be able to learn the seller’s identity. I think there’s someway to get to archival information via archiwumallegro, but the last time I did this it took me awhile to figure out and at the moment am having trouble remembering the steps to find the information. These images are what I can see. Clearly the photos are low resolution, so I can’t really tell a whole lot. It looks like a pencil/pen drawing of a nude. The signature does look legitimate.

I tried to search the name of the stamp on the photo, Adam Klob, but I am not coming up with anything.  I also tried searching the name with the name Rynecki, but that doesn’t give me any leads either.

I very much want to track down this seller, and learn if there was a buyer.  Any leads greatly appreciated! You can email me: erynecki [at] yahoo [dot] com

The Art of Moshe Rynecki

“The Art of Moshe Rynecki” is the title of my latest Huffington Post piece. It includes a slideshow of my great-grandfather’s work, highlighting the various types of scenes he painted.  You can read it on the Huffington Post’s Art and Culture pages:

2nd post

Piecing Together the Fragments

So much of the Moshe Rynecki project is about piecing together the fragments.  The pieces don’t always arrive in my life at the same time. There are scattered bits of data, photographs, and website links that I accumulate over time.  I save all the documentation I find and I print out a lot of it, but really it’s about keeping track of it in my mind and trying to connect the dots for those a-ha moments.  This morning I’m not really sure about all the pieces I have in front of me, but they seem important and connected, so I’m writing this blog to share them.  My greatest hope with all these fragments is that at some point instead of thinking the fragments are connected, that I might actually find a way to join them together.  So the pieces I have are as follows…

Item #1: In December I had several Warsaw Yiddish Daily articles translated.  Two of the articles were published in July 1929 in a newspaper called the Unzer Ekspres.  The articles talk about an exhibition of drawings and graphics at the Jewish Art Society Building (51 Krulevska [St.]) and they list my great-grandfather as having works in the exhibition.  The first was published 15 July 1929 and the second was printed 25 July 1929.

Item #2: Yesterday I discovered that the Polish auction house, Polski Dom Aukcyjny has a catalog on their website that is titled Salon 1929.  In the catalog it lists two of my great-grandfather’s paintings:

272. Przy chorym, ol.
273. Modlitwa, rys.

The catalog does contain some photographs, but no photos of my great-grandfather’s pieces.  I contacted the auction house and was told they have the original catalog and that all the photos that appeared in the catalog appear in their online posting of the catalog.  In other words, they do NOT have photographs of the two Moshe Rynecki paintings that appeared in the exhibition. The cover page of the catalog says that the works were exhibited at “Tow. Zachety Sztuk Pieknych,” which translates roughly to “the encouragement of fine arts.”  Note that the titles given in the catalog translate roughly to “When Sick,” and “Prayer.”

Item #3: In the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is the Otto Schneid archive which contains correspondence, photos, and newspaper clippings sent from my great-grandfather to Schneid about his work.  One of those newspaper clippings is a German article.  I have transcribed the article and used Google Translate to better guesstimate what the article says.  The clipping is undated, but it’s about an exhibition of Jewish artists.  I’m not sure if it’s a German paper published in Poland or if it is about an exhibition in Germany.  What makes me think of this article is that there is this photograph of a painting which is titled, “Modlitwa w Synagodze.”  Perhaps it is the same Modlitwa, but with a slightly different title?

pic_2013-10-17_182516 copySo the question is this: Is the exhibition mentioned in the Warsaw Yiddish newspapers the same one as is documented in the catalog held by the Polish auction house, and is this photo of the painting (whose whereabouts are unknown to me), all interconnected?

The quest for my great-grandfather’s lost paintings continues.