December 10, 2013

Update on the search for the oeuvre of Polish artist Moshe Rynecki by his great-granddaughter

Elizabeth Rynecki has written about her search to identify and recover her great-grandfather's oeuvre of art which Moesche Rynecki hid around Warsaw during World War II before he was believed to have perished in the Majdanek concentration camp in 1943 of which is written:
After the Germans destroyed the Warsaw ghetto in spring 1943, SS and police officials deported between 18,000 and 22,000 survivors of the uprising, including women and children, to Majdanek as forced laborers, along with the equipment of some of the Warsaw ghetto workshops. The SS intended that these prisoners would work for the benefit of a new SS-owned labor deployment concern, East Industries, Inc. (Ostindustrie, GmbH). The surviving documentation is insufficient to determine whether and how many of the Jewish survivors of the Warsaw ghetto were killed upon arrival at Majdanek. As many as 3,000 may eventually have been transferred to the Budzyn forced labor camp. 
Here's an article in the Spring issue of The Journal of Art Crime about the loss of works by Moesche Rynecki: 
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....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)
Here's a link to her blog which updates her journey and work on the documentary Chasing Portraits: A Family's Quest for Their Lost Heritage. This blog post on Nov. 5 tells about the photos of paintings Ms. Rynecki saw in the Otto Schneid archive at the University of Toronto Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library.

Here's on article published on Oct. 31 in The Canadian Jewish News by Fern Smiley (ARCA Alum) "Search for lost pre-World War II art bears fruit in Toronto". Ms. Smiley wrote:
While it’s possible that much of Moshe’s extant oeuvre has been stolen, this can’t be easily proven. Since Moshe’s work was never recorded or catalogued, it’s impossible to prove whether paintings that surface at auctions, for example, came from the bundles. As an art historian, Rynecki can search for her great-grandfather’s paintings, establish relationships with those who have his pieces, and potentially learn the stories that tie all of those who have experienced the work into a larger narrative.
 In return, she receives gifts, and that night at her talk, Prof. Barry Walfish gave her several more. After the questions ended, he raised his hand and explained to Rynecki and the audience that the University of Toronto Library, where Walfish works as a Judaica specialist, holds handwritten letters of her great-grandfather as well as more than a dozen photographs of his paintings. Among them was a photo of the damaged painting she showed during her talk.
In the rain, after a long lecture, Walfish accompanied Rynecki to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, where he opened two archival boxes from the Otto Schneid archives. Schneid, a European-born Polish painter, sculptor and historian, wrote a book on modern Jewish art in the Diaspora. In his research, he solicited autobiographies and photos of artwork from dozens of Jewish artists in Europe, including Moshe. In 1938, after Germany’s annexation of Austria, the printing of his authoritative book by his Viennese publisher was halted by the Nazis. Schneid fled Poland for Palestine, but never saw his book in print. A Hebrew version that he prepared in Israel and was ready for publication in 1957 also never saw the light of day. The unpublished manuscripts, in German and Hebrew, along with all the background material he collected, were gifted to the Fisher Library by his widow, Miriam, in 2002.
Out of the boxed archives came more than a dozen photos of paintings Rynecki had never seen before, including one called Kabbalist and one haunting death-bed scene of Moshe’s own father, as well as the intact photographic reproduction of his watercolour Prayer, and a handwritten letter in Yiddish from Moshe to Schneid, introducing himself, which begins: “I was born an artist…”- See more at:


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