A Great-Granddaughter's Legacy

Przeglad – Poland

first page of articleSławomir Grünberg was interviewed about his Karski & The Lords of Humanity film in the most recent issue of Przeglad (nr 45/2015). In the article the interviewer asked him to talk about some of his other projects. He told them a bit about his involvement in the Chasing Portraits documentary film project and my quest for my great-grandfather’s lost art. The article is in Polish and is available here as a PDF.



Chasing Portraits Awarded Koret Foundation Support

Chasing Portraits, the documentary film project, is pleased to announce it has been awarded a grant from the Koret Foundation. The film will use this support to begin post-production in 2016. The funds will be directed to Chasing Portraits’ fiscal sponsor, the National Center for Jewish Film.

Elizabeth Rynecki, the film’s producer, is both the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.  Chasing Portraits is the story of her search for the art of her great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki. Moshe, a Warsaw based artist who painted scenes of the Polish-Jewish community in the interwar period, perished in the Holocaust. The film raises questions about legacy, history, provenance of art, loss, and forgiveness.

Based in San Francisco, the Koret Foundation supports organizations that promote a vibrant and distinctive Bay Area. Koret focuses its giving in two major areas: strengthening the Jewish community in the Bay Area, Israel and Poland, and supporting Bay Area anchor institutions. Since its founding in 1979, Koret has invested nearly $500 million to contribute to a higher quality of civic and Jewish community life.

For further donation information, please visit our donation page.



Witnessing the Robbing of The Jews – A Photographic Album 1940-1944

51ktLZ94SyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_After Paris’ liberation from the Nazi occupation, a German soldier’s photo album containing pictures related to the Möbel-Aktion” campaign was found. The M-Action campaign, or furniture action campaign, was one in which the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) looted approximately 70,000 homes of French, Belgian, and Dutch Jews who had either fled or had been deported. The stolen items were then inventoried, photographed, and eventually transported to Germany. Alfred Rosenberg, the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, wanted the items to furnish German administrative offices in the East.loadimg-6

A Parisian department store,  Lévitan, served as an interim storage space before the looted goods were transported to Germany. When the stolen items arrived at the department store, Jewish internees assigned to this work opened crates and divided the contents into “departments” in order to display the goods with other similar items. Some of the images in the album show the stolen goods arranged into shop-like displays, presumably for the benefit of high-ranking Nazi officials whose visits are depicted in some photos. It is one thing to know this historical fact, it is quite another to see these photographs. In these images we see furniture and crates loaded onto trucks, and images of everyday household objects – pots and pans, dinner sets, children’s toys, musical instruments, bedding and linens, and stacks of empty frames – sorted, stacked, and disconnected from their true owners. We are, as author Sara Gensburger states in her title, Witnessing the Robbing of the Jews.

levitan31We know the Nazis took everything – people, communities, lives, homes, land, and personal property – but these photographs show the massive extent of the looting. And more than anything else, loadimg-2these photos speak volumes about the attempts to erase and forget the people and families whose stories are behind each and every one of these items on display. Nazis were invited to buy these goods, and they did. But as we gaze upon these photos we bring with us an understanding of what these items without their owners really means. The snapshots of personal property becomes incredibly surreal and deeply disturbing because although we don’t know the exact fate of each of the people who once owned these goods, we have a pretty darn good idea of what happened to them.


NYCLA – 8th Annual Art Litigation and Dispute Resolution Practice Institute

I’m excited to announce I’ll be part of the upcoming 8th Annual Art Litigation and Dispute Resolution Practice Institute put on by the New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA). I am part of a panel that will be speaking about challenges heirs face when dealing with Holocaust era looted art issues. It’s an all day event and registration is on NYCLA’s website.

Basic details:

Friday, November 20, 2015, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Member Price: $200
Non-Member Attorney Price: $250



An Interview with Carla Shapreau

IMG_3556Today I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Carla Shapreau for the Chasing Portraits documentary film. Carla has spent a significant number of years researching Holocaust era music related losses and she’s very articulate about provenance research, legal questions at hand, and understanding what heirs face when addressing these difficult issues.

Carla’s brief bio is that she is a Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, where she teaches art and cultural property law. She is also a Senior Fellow in the Institute of European Studies where she is conducting research regarding music-related losses during the Nazi era and their 21st century ramifications. You can read more about Carla on both the Institute of European Studies website and Berkeley’s Boalt Law School Faculty pages.

And be sure to check out this fabulous and interesting article, A Violin Once Owned by Goebbels Keeps Its Secrets, a 2012 New York Times article Carla authored.


Rosh Hashana Greetings


 Shana Tova to you and yours in 5776. May it be a good and sweet new year.

Chasing Portraits Down Under

In may be Thursday 13 August 2015 in California, but down under, in Australia, it’s Friday August 14th. And in today’s  edition of The Australian Jewish News, you can now read: A search from the heart about the Chasing Portraits project.

Australian Jewish News August 2015

A day in the life of Chasing Portraits

I wish I could bring everyone on a behind-the-scenes Chasing Portraits adventure. I love learning and discovering more about my great-grandfather, particularly those moments where I see a piece of his art for the first time, because these are always jaw-dropping, heart beating faster, lump in my throat, moments for me that I think everyone would love to experience. But I can’t bring everyone along, and so I try to share those moments in blog posts, social media shares, and in-person conversations.

Last week I met with Shula, my third cousin [my great-grandmother and her great-grandmother were sisters], to see a Rynecki painting and wood carving. The visit was filmed for the documentary, and I’m certain you’ll eventually see pieces of the interview in the film, but that won’t be for awhile. And so the question becomes, how do I share the day with you now? Usually I just try to write a bit about it and share some quick snapshots, but my visit on Saturday was extra special because it was documented by photojournalist Chuck Fishman. Chuck took a lot of photographs. I’m sharing some of them – moments that capture the excitement of connecting with long lost family and Rynecki art.

* * *

I’d seen a photograph of the Rynecki painting in Shula’s home many years ago, but never the wood carving. Actually, I didn’t even know she had a wood carving until I called and asked if I could come and see the painting. It was while we were chatting on the phone that she said something about a sculpture. “Don’t tell me anything about it,” I said. I wanted it to be a total and complete surprise. And it was. The picture at the far left is just moments after Shula has pointed out that the piece hangs on the wall in her kitchen. I have a love-hate relationship with my expression in this photograph. I am speechless and momentarily stunned – which isn’t particularly flattering, but that’s also why I love it. I want you to see that exact moment when I’ve seen the piece for the first time. The middle two photographs show me getting to know the carving. I love being able to study my great-grandfather’s art in such a personal way. The last photo in this series of 4 images isn’t so flattering either, but I love Chuck’s composition because while I’m standing in the kitchen with Shula holding the carving, on the hallway wall you can see the Rynecki painting. Surrounded by Rynecki art – I love it!



After looking at the wood carving we were treated to a delightful Saturday morning New York Jewish brunch. We had bagels, lox, and cream cheese, white fish, and more! And then it was time for Shula and I to chat. We sat in the corner of this great big red couch in her living room and spoke for close to two hours! Together we began to piece together stories, family genealogy, and lost history. We were both so animated and we shared some amazing A-HA moments as well as some good laughs.


These photos sort of make me laugh because you’re seeing so many layers of documentation going on. First there’s the Rynecki painting on the floor. And then there’s me taking a photograph of the painting. And then there’s Slawomir Grunberg filming me taking a photograph of the painting. And then there is, of course, the fact that Chuck is photographing Slawomir who is filming me taking a photograph. We’re documentary filmmakers… we don’t mess around!


After the interview and my photographing the art, Chuck took these photographs of the Rynecki art. I love the details in this painting of these tailors cutting and sewing pieces. Moshe’s father, Abraham, was a tailor. Actually, as I understand it, he ran a clothing factory where he produced uniforms. Anyway, while Moshe was a great observer in general, my guess is that growing up he learned a great deal about the world of sewing and the making of clothes. Which is why when I asked Shula what she thought was represented in the wood carving and she told me, “a tailor,” I nodded my head in complete understanding. I had at first assumed it was a man in some sort of prayer, but I absolutely think Shula’s right. Do you see how the man his sitting, his right arm stretched outwards as if he’s pulling a thread taut?


Chuck Fishman photo

Thank you, Chuck, for a fabulous collection of photographs, and for helping me to tell and share the story in images!


Chasing Portraits in New York

Chasing Portraits was in New York City all last week. It was an amazing and fabulous trip! A bit of a photo montage from the trip.

IMG_8841The Chasing Portraits book will be published by Penguin Random House in 2016. I went to have lunch with my editor. He’s delightful, it was fabulous, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I filmed several interviews while in the city. I spoke to Nick O’Donnell (Sullivan and Worcester, LLP), Anna Rubin (Holocaust Claims Processing Office), and Pierre Ciric (The Ciric Law Firm, PLLC). Each of them delightful, engaged, and so very informative. We talked about the Washington Principles, the Terezin Declaration, and issues regarding Holocaust era looted art. Slawomir Grunberg shot some great footage, there were lots of fabulous quotes, and I hope a little bit from each interview ends up in the film!


In addition to filming these three interviews, on Saturday I met with a woman who is related to my family on my great-grandmother’s side. After the Holocaust my great-grandmother, Perla, gifted a Rynecki painting and a wood carving to this woman’s father in Israel. Many years ago she brought both with her to the United States. I knew from grandpa George’s memoir that my great-grandfather had worked in wood, clay, and in the late thirties, the first plastics, but I had never seen these pieces. This lovely photograph was taken by photojournalist, Chuck Fishman. The carving is exquisite in its details. Each segment a unique piece, assembled together in a puzzle to create this man, a tailor, we think. His right arm stretched outwards, as if pulling an imaginary thread taut as he works on a piece of fabric draped over his left leg.

Chuck Fishman photo

Always a joy to work with Slawomir Grunberg and Catherine Greenblatt. These two have filmed with me in Poland (twice), Israel, and now New York.










1948 Exhibition

In 1948 the Jewish Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts (a precursor, as I understand it, to the ŻIH/The Jewish Historical Institute) planned and hosted an exhibition that included three of Moshe Rynecki paintings. The exhibition, Wystawa dzieł żydowskich artystów plastyków męczenników niemieckiej okupacji 1939–1945 [Exhibition of Works of Jewish Artists Martyrs of the German occupation 1939-1945] included 3 Rynecki paintings.

Only the titles are listed in the catalog: Przy szachach – A game of chess, Slepy zebrak – Blind Beggar, and Żyd przy pracy – Jew at work

Although the catalog does not include photographs, I’m pretty confident that Blind Beggar is this one. The text on the beggar’s sign says:

יודען רחמנים שענקט נדבה – Which translates, roughly, I’m told to: Merciful Jews, spare a donation.


I found this written about the exhibition in the 2008 book, Under the Red Banner: Yiddish Culture in the Communist Countries in the Post War Era, “The Society [ŻTKSP – The Jewish Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts] did not forget one of its most important tasks – preparing exhibitions. In the course of three years of activity, until the end of 1949, it organized four exhibitions that were presented in all of Poland – two individual ones: in 1946 Rafal Mandelzweig (Human Martyrology, 1939-1954), and three years later that of Lea Grundig – an Israeli artist who was originally from Germany, as well as two collective exhibitions. The opening on 19 April 1948 of the Exhibition of Works of Jewish Artists Martyrs of the German Occupation 1939-1945 accompanied the commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the outbreak of the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto. A subsequent exhibition – Rescue Works of Art of Jewish Artists, which was open to the Warsaw public from 29 August to 5 October 1948, presented pictures, drawings, graphic works and sculpture that had been purchased by the ŻTKSP. In the following year, from February to June, the exhibition traveled around Lower Silesia: to Wrocław, Dzierżoniów, Świdnica, Walbrzych and Legnica. According to data in a report for the Ministry of Culture and Art, nearly 10,500 individuals, including 3,390 in Dzierżoniów, visited the exhibition at that time.”


Thank you to Chasing Portraits supporter and friend of the project, Marianka Natanson, for finding this information in the Centralna Biblioteka Judaistyczna database!