A Great-Granddaughter's Legacy

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!

Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

I recently received an email from Logan Kleinwaks (who runs the absolutely incredible Genealogy Indexer site) with information that he’d recently added several reports from the Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts to his site and that in 3 of the reports he’d digitized and made searchable, there were references to my great-grandfather. While the fact that Moshe (Maurycy) Rynecki had his work shown at this venue is not news, what is really fascinating about these reports is that they share the titles of his exhibited pieces. I’ve flipped through the digital pages of these reports and while I don’t know Polish, much of the document looks like some sort of year end report to members about the status of the organization.

For each of the records about my great-grandfather, I’ve transcribed the titles of each of his works listed and tried to use Google Translate for an English language title. Some titles are easier to understand than others. Sadly, there are no images with the report, so while the titles are often descriptive of each of the paintings, it’s impossible to know the status of each of the works (i.e. Did the piece survive the war? If so, where is it?). To the right of each entry is a number. I believe this is the total number of paintings each artist displayed.

Here are the three pages with indexing information about my great-grandfather, along with a transcription [I’m sorry for the lack of Polish accent marks!] of the painting titles, and a translation (if google translate made sense). If you have translation edits, please let me know. [NOTE: I think I am now all set on translation edits! A really big thank you to Samantha Spalling, Marianka Natanson, and Ed Mitukiewicz for translation insight and help!]

1930 Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

Rynecki, Maurycy, Warszawa –

Przyjęcie Nowożeńców [Reception of the Newlyweds]

Wesele [Wedding]

Katarynka [Barrel organ – as used by an organ grinder]

W szkole talmudystow I [Talmudic School I]

Talmudysci [Talmudists]

W szkole talmudystow II [Talmudic School II]

Święto Tory [Celebration of the Torah (Simchat Torah (?)]

W boznicy [In the synagogue]

Za Chlebem [it means “to go in search of bread” and refers to emigration for economic reasons. I am also told “it may refer to any form of economic migration in search of some paid work (…not necessarily an out-of-the-country emigration although more often than not that was actually the case…). Incidentally, “Za Chlebem” happens to be a title of a popular 19th century novel about Polish peasants emigrating to the US – written in 1880 by Henryk Sienkiewicz, who received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905, and ever since a mandatory reading for most Polish schoolchildren.”]

Talmudysci [Talmudists]

1931 Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

Rynecki Maurycy, Warszawa –

Dybuk [The Dybbuk]
Swieto swieczek [Feast of Candles (Perhaps a reference to Hanukkah?)]
Rabin Naucza [Rabi is Teaching]
Głowka [Little head (perhaps the portrait of a child?)]
Na Wywczasach [pre-war spelling of Na wczasach, meaning, on holiday or on vacation]. I assume it is this piece whose whereabouts are unknown:

newspaper clipping

Umierajaca [Dying woman]
Kataryniarz [Organ-grinder]


1932 Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

[note: 1932 information added to this blog post 6/30/2015]

Talmudysci [Talmudists]

W boznicy [In the synagogue]

Odczytywanie rodały  [Reading the Torah scrolls (but please note I’ve been told there is a slight nuance here that might be difficult to translate, especially since we don’t know the content of the painting itself. “Odczytywanie rodałów,” the title used, is different from “Czytanie rodałów”. The latter means reading Torah one one’s own. The title seems to instead refer to some sort of public reading (presumable in synagogue) of the Torah for the benefit of others.)]

Rozwod [Divorce]

Modlitwa z palmami [Prayer with palm branches (?). (Please note that on palm branches and Judaism, Wikipedia says this: “In Judaism, the date palm (Lulav) is one of the Four Species used in the daily prayers on the feast of Sukkot. It is bound together with the hadass (myrtle), and aravah (willow). The Midrash[15] notes that the binding of the Four Species symbolizes the desire to unite the four “types” of Jews in service of God.”)]

W szkole [At School]


1936 Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

Rynecki Maurycy, Warszawa –

Modlitwa z Rodalami [Prayer with the (Torah) scrolls]


A New Find!

1131I am on vacation, but the truth is that the Chasing Portraits project is always on my mind. Today, while sitting in a cafe in Paris, I received a lovely email from Piotr Nazaruk who has helped the project on multiple occasions. He wrote, in part, “Just a minute ago I discovered M. Rynecki painting printed in Yiddish newspaper from Białystok. I’m at work at Grodzka Gate and I was doing a research regarding “The Dibbuk” movie, so nothing related to Rynecki and completely by chance I found this painting. Instantly I recognized his style and I checked the caption, there is his name written in Yiddish.

Men bensht etrog – tush zeikhnung fun M. Rynetski
מען בענשט אתרוג. טוש זײכנונג פֿון מ. רינעצקי

From what I understand the title is “Blessing an etrog”, ink painting by M. Rynecki, but I’m not sure about the word bensht.

It was published in Unzer Białystoker Express, year 5, No. 215, September 19, 1937, page 5. Here you can find the newspaper:

Do you know this painting?”

No, Piotr, no I don’t! What a find. Of course I have no idea if this painting survived the Second World War and, if it did, where it might be at this point.



[NOTE: 7/22/2015 update: I’m told that the Yiddish says: Men bensht esreg: tush tseykhnung fun M. Rinetski.
“Blessing the etrog-ink drawing by M. Rynecki.”
and that “Bensht” should be “bentsht” (bless). Perhaps it’s a typo.]

Kickstarter Rewards!

18894_856659547746903_1868242958892308894_nDid you back the Chasing Portraits Kickstarter campaign at  a level with rewards? If you backed the project with $50, or more, you get a set of 5 Moshe Rynecki greeting cards! Yesterday I worked on packaging them up for shipping. Here’s part of the assembly line. 11012083_856659567746901_3805522689887732581_n