August 15, 2013

Elizabeth Rynecki on "Lost, Forgotten, Looted or Destroyed: A Great-Granddaughter's Search for her Art Legacy" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

In the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Elizabeth Rynecki writes about "Lost, Forgotten, Looted or Destroyed: A Great-Granddaughter’s Search for her Art Legacy": 
At the outbreak of the Second World War, my great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943), took his oeuvre of work (about 800 paintings depicting the Jewish community) and divided them into bundles to be hidden in and around the city of Warsaw, Poland. He gave a list of the locations where works were hidden to his wife, son, and daughter, in hopes that after the war the family would retrieve the bundles. Unfortunately, Moshe was deported from the Warsaw Ghetto, my family believes to Majdanek, where he perished. His daughter, Bronislawa, was murdered in June 1943 at the entrance to a slum house on Nalewki Street in the Warsaw ghetto. His wife Perla, his son George, and George’s wife Stella and their young son Alex survived the war.
Moshe Rynecki, Krasinski Park, 1930. Oil on Cardboard
After the war, my great-grandmother Perla and her cousin went to see if any of the bundles of the paintings survived. They weren’t very hopeful because of the enormous devastation in and around Warsaw. They found just a single package in the Pragash district, across the river Vistula. The package was in the cellar of a home. As my grandfather George recalls in his memoir: 
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. About 12-15 percent of Jews survived the Holocaust. So did my father’s paintings. One hundred and twenty were found out of a count of close to eight hundred works. (G. Rynecki 94) 
M. Rynecki, The Water Carriers, 1930. Oil on Parchment.
In 1949 my grandfather, grandmother, father, and the paintings left Europe and came to America to start life anew. In his new country, my grandfather treasured those paintings as a physical link both to his father and to a world and way of life that had been destroyed. He proudly repaired those paintings that had been damaged, framed the collection, and displayed them prominently on the walls of his home. 
Elizabeth Rynecki attended Bates College where she studied Rhetoric. She received a master's degree in Rhetoric and Speech Communication at U. C. Davis where her graduate work focused on children of Holocaust survivors and the voice and role of the second generation within Holocaust discourse.

Here's a link to the documentary project: Chasing Portraits: A Family's Quest for Their Lost Heritage.

This article is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by ARCA Founder Noah Charney. The Journal is available electronically and in print via subscription and The Journal's Associate Editor, Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), is a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.