Monday, November 21, 2016

by Elizabeth Rynecki

His paintings were on the walls of the home where she grew up. As a child she took them for granted because they were always there. The lives of Polish Jews during the 1920s and the 1930s were portrayed. Moshe Rynecki was the artist. He painted all the time. When the Nazis entered Poland in 1939 Moshe had over eight hundred pieces of art including some sculptures.
Moshe kept on painting even during the Nazi invasion, but as conditions deteriorated for the Jews, he had to decide what to do about his artwork. His paintings and sculptures were divided into bundles and  he asked friends to hide them. Pretty soon after this was done, Moshe went into the Warsaw Ghetto to live. He did this, willingly. His son, Jerzy, (later anglicized to George when he moved to the United States), who was living outside the ghetto with false papers pleaded with Moshe not to go. He would not listen and said that he wanted to be with his people. Moshe was deported to the Majdanek concentration camp and murdered. His wife, Perla, survived the Holocaust. She looked for the paintings after the war and found 120 of them hidden in a cellar within the Praga district. For over fifty years, the Rynecki family thought that these paintings were all that were left.
In 1992, after Grandpa George died, Elizabeth Rynecki (Moshe's great-granddaughter) began to study Moshe's art. Several years later she built a website of Moshe's works. From this, the Internet, and social media, Elizabeth discovered that many more of Moshe's paintings had survived World War II. Some are held in museums; others are with private collectors. But, not all of the art has been found. Elizabeth hopes that eventually more people will come forward to supply the missing pieces.
Chasing Portraits is a terrific story. Elizabeth Rynecki is a wonderful writer. What she goes through while searching for her great-grandfather's paintings (such trials and tribulations) keeps you on edge. It's fortunate that her grandfather (George) wrote a memoir, which the family did not discover until after he had passed in 1992. That in and of itself is a goldmine. Her other sources include curators, art lawyers, databases, documentaries, auction houses, professors, archives, etc.
It's really too bad that Moshe Rynecki agreed to be led into the Warsaw Ghetto when his own son could have saved him. He could have painted so much more especially if he had come to America with his wife, his son, and his family. His paintings are absolutely amazing! In the middle of the book are twenty-six color prints, plus interspersed throughout are black-and-white drawings. Although Moshe was not famous in Poland, he could have been in America. Needless to say, he would have been very proud of his great-granddaughter who had such dogged determination to seek out his lost paintings and to never give up.
Highly recommended.