What is the purpose of this website?
Few images remain from the world of East European Jewry which was destroyed during the Holocaust. Perhaps the most well known images that survived the Holocaust are Roman Vishniac’s photographs, taken between 1935 and 1939, and The Ejszyszki Shtetl Collection, on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In this web site we introduce you to an additional set of images—paintings by Moshe Rynecki.
Moshe Rynecki’s life spanned many turbulent events: the partition of his country (Poland), almost constant political turmoil, and two world wars. While Rynecki’s artistic merit is important, in his paintings we can gain deeper insight into a culture transformed and nearly annihilated by Nazism. Through his choice of subjects, he provides us with a realistic depiction of Jewish family life, work, religion, education, and recreation. Although his primary goal and focus in life was to be an artist of merit, history turned him into an important witness when he was transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto. There he documented the atrocity and horror that surrounded him.
Although the Holocaust brought great loss and a tragic end to Moshe Rynecki and many members of his family, our goal in this web site is to celebrate him and his work. We hope you enjoy your visit!
How did the paintings survive the Holocaust?
Moshe painted over 800 paintings, and also created an unknown number of sculptures and carvings, before the Nazis invaded Poland.
Shortly after the start of the war, Moshe realized his life’s work was in danger. In an effort to protect and preserve his paintings he divided his collection into a small number of bundles—perhaps six to ten. Initially the family knew how many bundles there were, where they were hidden, and how to find them after the war.
After the war, efforts were made to retrieve the paintings. Against all odds, the Rynecki family amazingly found one of the bundles. Moshe’s son, George, wrote in his memoir, Surviving Hitler in Poland: One Jew’s Story:
The only package found by mother and a cousin, Sophie Binstock, was in Praga, across the river Vistula. They were looking for all the hidden parcels. The only one found was in a cellar in Praga. The people were away, and the paintings, all on paper or parchment, fairly small, were strewn on the basement floor in the cellar. Some damaged, some cut in half with scenes missing. They seemed to have gone through the same fate as the Jewish people—massacred and destroyed.
Are the paintings for sale?
No, they are not for sale.
Are there books available for purchase?
YES! There are two books for sale that you might find of interest:
Jewish Life in Poland: The Art of Moshe Rynecki (1881–1943) is a twenty-eight page, full-color book featuring many of the paintings seen here online.
Surviving Hitler in Poland: One Jew’s Story is a memoir written by George J. Rynecki, Moshe Rynecki’s son.
Are there venues where I can see his paintings in person?
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, (formerly known as the Judah L. Magnes Museum) in Berkeley, California has in its permanent collection The Gift of Bread, a painting (oil on parchment) depicting a wedding scene. It was a gift to the Museum from George Rynecki (Moshe Rynecki’s son). You must call ahead and make arrangements to see the painting as it is usually in storage.
Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Israel has in its permanent collection Refugees (watercolor sketch). It was a gift to the museum from the Rynecki family and is on permanent display.
The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland has many of Moshe Rynecki’s paintings in their collection. You must call ahead to learn if any are currently on display.
Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (National Museum in Warsaw) has in its permanent collection two of Moshe Rynecki paintings: W Parku (In a Park), 1935 Inventory number: Rys.W.2146 and
Talmudysci (The Talmudists), undated. Inventory number: Rys.W.2145. You must call ahead and make arrangements to see the painting as it is usually in storage.
Are there any plans for the works to go on tour?
At the present time there are no plans for any exhibitions.
When will the Chasing Portraits documentary film be finished?
The project is still raising money and filming, but you can watch the 9 minute promo trailer. The 501-c-3 sponsor of the project is the National Center for Jewish Film. Donations are greatly appreciated! I always write a handwritten thank you note on a Moshe Rynecki greeting card for donations.
How can I stay current and learn of any important developments?
Do you give talks about the project?
Yes! My speaking schedule is posted on my blog, and is updated when events are added.