Paris Writers News

Read the interview I did with Laurel Zuckerman on her Paris Writers News blog about Chasing Portraits in which I answer questions like: “Can you talk about the challenges of interviewing your own family – in particular your father – for information?” and “You’ve done an outstanding job articulating not just the beauty and power of your great-grandfather’s art, but also the emotional toll of searching for it. The grief, the obsessive desire to learn more, the doubt. Yet Chasing Portraits feels very even handed and fair. Was the original text like this or did you have to go through many drafts to attain this result?”


A Grant Challenge!

The Chasing Portraits documentary film is in post-production editing (and we are awfully close to a first generation rough cut!!). To complete the film we need additional funding for an original score, color correction, graphics, and sound mixing, all so that watching it on the big screen is a rewarding experience! An incredibly generous and anonymous donor recently pledged to match funds up to $25,000. We’ve secured $10,000 $15,000 $15,250 $17,250 $17,995 in pledges and now need to raise an additional $7,005 [updated four times, most recently 10/18/2016]. Can you help us out? All amounts help!


You can donate online [via PayPal, by check, or by phone].

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.



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.


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.










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



We did it!

We have reached our Kickstarter campaign goal of $20,000! This is fantastic news as it means we will now receive all the funds that have been pledged to date and that we can match the Claims Conference grant!

There are still 7 days left in the Kickstarter campaign. Any funds raised between now and the time the campaign closes next week will go towards post-production (editor, original score, sound engineering, etc) expenses.

Thank you all who have pledged and shared the project with others.


It’s the last push…

So far the Chasing Portraits Kickstarter campaign has raised $17,747 from 151 backers. In 7 days the campaign is over. We need to reach $20,000 to be fully funded. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing deal. All amounts really do help! If 10 people give $10, then that’s $100. It definitely all adds up.

Recently I’ve received some really nice comments about the project on different social media platforms. I thought it would be fun to share the two latest and greatest here.

LinkedIn comment

Alli's appeal