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Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy

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The everyday lives of the Polish-Jewish community depicted in Moshe Rynecki's paintings simply blended into the background of Elizabeth Rynecki's life when she was growing up. But the art transformed from familiar to extraordinary in her eyes after her grandfather, Moshe's son George, left behind journals detailing the loss her ancestors had endured during World War II, in The everyday lives of the Polish-Jewish community depicted in Moshe Rynecki's paintings simply blended into the background of Elizabeth Rynecki's life when she was growing up. But the art transformed from familiar to extraordinary in her eyes after her grandfather, Moshe's son George, left behind journals detailing the loss her ancestors had endured during World War II, including Moshe's art. Knowing that her family had only found a small portion of Moshe's art, and that many more pieces remained to be found, Elizabeth set out to find them. Before Moshe was deported to the ghetto, he entrusted his work to friends who would keep it safe. After he was killed in the Majdanek concentration camp, the art was dispersed all over the world. With the help of historians, curators, and admirers of Moshe's work, Elizabeth began the incredible and difficult task of rebuilding his collection. Spanning three decades of Elizabeth's life and three generations of her family, this touching memoir is a compelling narrative of the richness of one man's art, the devastation of war, and one woman's unexpected path to healing.


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The everyday lives of the Polish-Jewish community depicted in Moshe Rynecki's paintings simply blended into the background of Elizabeth Rynecki's life when she was growing up. But the art transformed from familiar to extraordinary in her eyes after her grandfather, Moshe's son George, left behind journals detailing the loss her ancestors had endured during World War II, in The everyday lives of the Polish-Jewish community depicted in Moshe Rynecki's paintings simply blended into the background of Elizabeth Rynecki's life when she was growing up. But the art transformed from familiar to extraordinary in her eyes after her grandfather, Moshe's son George, left behind journals detailing the loss her ancestors had endured during World War II, including Moshe's art. Knowing that her family had only found a small portion of Moshe's art, and that many more pieces remained to be found, Elizabeth set out to find them. Before Moshe was deported to the ghetto, he entrusted his work to friends who would keep it safe. After he was killed in the Majdanek concentration camp, the art was dispersed all over the world. With the help of historians, curators, and admirers of Moshe's work, Elizabeth began the incredible and difficult task of rebuilding his collection. Spanning three decades of Elizabeth's life and three generations of her family, this touching memoir is a compelling narrative of the richness of one man's art, the devastation of war, and one woman's unexpected path to healing.

30 review for Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    This fascinating book was by turns heart-breaking and thought-provoking. The basic outline: Elizabeth Rynecki grew up with her great-grandfather’s artwork around her, and never thought too much about it. Her grandparents didn’t talk much about the past, and only spoke Polish to one another. Her grandfather once mentioned to her that he might write his life’s story, but she, without knowing the context—and with the quick judgment typical of the young—told him he wasn’t a writer, and the subject wa This fascinating book was by turns heart-breaking and thought-provoking. The basic outline: Elizabeth Rynecki grew up with her great-grandfather’s artwork around her, and never thought too much about it. Her grandparents didn’t talk much about the past, and only spoke Polish to one another. Her grandfather once mentioned to her that he might write his life’s story, but she, without knowing the context—and with the quick judgment typical of the young—told him he wasn’t a writer, and the subject was dropped. However, after he died, when she and her father went to clear out his house, they not only came across the art work which she was now beginning to appreciate, but she discovered a handwritten memoir, about her grandfather’s life in Poland before World War II, and what happened to the family during the Holocaust. That changed everything. Using this memoir as a basis, and considerable research, Elizabeth Rynecki tells the story of Moshe Rynecki, whose deeply devout father had not wanted him to become an artist, but finally and reluctantly gave in. Moshe Rynecki spent years at his art, making some 800 pieces before the world began disintegrating around their ears. What do you do with that much art when you have little money, you’re old, what few rights you have are being taken away by day and the Germans are coming with their guns? He ripped the art out of the frames and bundled paintings and drawings in groups of fifty, many of which he gave away. He started a kind of catalogue, but was unequal to the task . . . he told his progeny to go to safety, and his wife, but he was determined to stay with his Jewish brethren, and whatever happened to them would happen to him. Well, it did. Meanwhile, the family was scattered, many murdered along with millions of others. The survivors, at the end of the war, then faced the monumental task of finding one another, along with some twenty million other displaced persons, with no resources. Years later they, and a small bundle of Moshe Rynecki’s art, made it to the USA for a fresh start. Segue up to the grandfather’s death: suddenly those warm, wonderful paintings of ordinary Jewish people going about their lives had a context, and Elizabeth Rynecki was determined to recover her great-grandfather’s art as a legacy for her own family. And so the next stage of the story begins. Right after the war, no one would take the art, when the family tried to sell some in order to survive. A few places let them know that they would gladly accept donations, but museums dedicated to the preservation of Jewish art and culture had scarce funding, and not much interest in the mainstream. Gradually that changed—and unfortunately for Rynecki, she discovered that now that the paintings had gained worth, people wanted to hang onto them, and resisted her efforts to reach out. A lawyer who dealt with the complicated mess having to do with Jewish properties stolen by the Nazis, told her flat out that being a descendant of the artist was the least likely way to ever recover anything. Why? Because maybe the artist had given the art to a museum, which was then looted by Nazis, so the provenance would trace back to the museum. Or maybe they’d sold it, and after the Nazis looted the gallery, etc etc. Elizabeth Rynecki had to figure out what it was she wanted to do. There was no way she was going to recover that art—but why not make a historical record? And so began detective work, meetings in several different countries, exchanges of harrowing stories going back to World War II. And the discovery that some—even fellow descendants of Holocaust victims—still refused to talk to her, to even send jpg.s of the art to be shared with the world. There is no manual, she points out, for proper behavior for descendants of Holocaust victims. Who owes what to whom? Especially in the case of art? The book is replete with reproductions, including gleanings of pieces that seem to have been lost, and the notes at the end are as fascinating as the story itself. Copy provided by NetGalley

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ann Ackermann

    More than a memoir – an art history detective story. Elizabeth Rynecki’s great-grandfather painted scenes of Jewish life in Poland, but most of his work disappeared during WWII. In a scene worthy of a novel – but it’s true! – Elizabeth read her grandfather’s diary after he died and discovered he’d written a mandate to her to investigate her family history. That mandate crystallized into a search for the lost paintings, a search that took Elizabeth around the world. The reader follows Elizabeth in More than a memoir – an art history detective story. Elizabeth Rynecki’s great-grandfather painted scenes of Jewish life in Poland, but most of his work disappeared during WWII. In a scene worthy of a novel – but it’s true! – Elizabeth read her grandfather’s diary after he died and discovered he’d written a mandate to her to investigate her family history. That mandate crystallized into a search for the lost paintings, a search that took Elizabeth around the world. The reader follows Elizabeth into museums and archives, into lawyers’ offices, and the living rooms of those who now own some of the paintings. The discovery of each new painting feels like a personal triumph. What makes this book such an enjoyable read is how the author successfully weaves an art detective story with her personal family history. She not only taught me about the history of Polish Jews and the art world, she also pulled my heartstrings.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    "Chasing Portraits: A Great Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy" written by Elizabeth Rynecki, shares for the first time the story of her great grandfather, Polish-Jewish artist Moshi Rynecki, (1881-1943) who produced an estimated 800 paintings depicting Jewish ordinary daily and religious life before and during the Holocaust. Elizabeth Rynecki was raised with her great-grandfathers art displayed prominently in the family home, although she wouldn't realize the significance of Moshi's a "Chasing Portraits: A Great Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy" written by Elizabeth Rynecki, shares for the first time the story of her great grandfather, Polish-Jewish artist Moshi Rynecki, (1881-1943) who produced an estimated 800 paintings depicting Jewish ordinary daily and religious life before and during the Holocaust. Elizabeth Rynecki was raised with her great-grandfathers art displayed prominently in the family home, although she wouldn't realize the significance of Moshi's art until adulthood, when she wanted to create a tribute film documentary project of Moshi's legacy related to his lost art. With her own research, she discovered that many of Moshi's paintings had indeed survived the Holocaust, though an unknown amount were destroyed with the collapse of buildings in Warsaw where they were hidden. A larger recovered volume of Moshi's artwork were held in Poland at the Historical Jewish Institute, and also by private collectors at various locations world wide. Although her family was entitled to claim and have Moshi's art returned to them by Holocaust property recovery laws, Elizabeth decided early not to pursue this option. Instead, she went to great lengths to make connections with the institution and private collectors who held Moshi's art. These connections would lead her to several U.S. cities, in addition to Toronto, Poland, and Tel Aviv. These journeys, often a difficult complex process that took staggering amounts of time and energy. Despite Elizabeth making it clear she only wanted to view and photograph missing paintings for her research and documentary, some private collectors were unwilling to share or extremely hesitant to reveal information about their valuable assets, and flatly refused to cooperate with her. Elizabeth hired professional photographers, translators, and guides when she traveled to Poland to interview proprietors at the Jewish Historical Institute. While in Poland Elizabeth would also retrace the story of Moshi's life, most of the original locations in Warsaw were destroyed by the Nazi's and later rebuilt. The most difficult was when she toured the Majdanek concentration complex where Moshi perished. The wind was fierce and bitterly cold. Haunted by the tour and this fact, Elizabeth recalled she couldn't imagine touring such places on a bright sunny day. This amazing book and story, contains color and black and white photographs of Moshi's magnificent art and paintings throughout. It is astounding the amount of labor that went to preserve Moshi's art legacy. Along with this book and a documentary, The Portrait of Life in Art website (est. 1999) is available and maintained with current academic research, education, and tracking of lost paintings. Elizabeth Rynecki has a masters degree in Rhetoric and Speech Communications from UC Davis, and lives in California. ~ With special thanks and appreciation to Penguin Random House for sponsoring the Goodreads Giveaway where I received this book for the purpose of review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Roberta

    I see that the reviews for this book have 4 and 5-star ratings. The 3-star ratings do not have reviews. Perhaps those are the readers found themselves in the same place I was: having picked up an unknown book at the library and reading for quite a while without finding the author's quest that was promised on the front cover. The subtitle (A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for her Lost Art Legacy) actually starts with Chapter 6 on page 91. Instead of getting all of this backstory up front, I would ha I see that the reviews for this book have 4 and 5-star ratings. The 3-star ratings do not have reviews. Perhaps those are the readers found themselves in the same place I was: having picked up an unknown book at the library and reading for quite a while without finding the author's quest that was promised on the front cover. The subtitle (A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for her Lost Art Legacy) actually starts with Chapter 6 on page 91. Instead of getting all of this backstory up front, I would have liked to have had the layers of the story peeled back and the story revealed to me as the author discovered it herself. Elizabeth Rynecki's great-grandfather's story is not substantially different from most biographies that you may already have read about the holocaust. A Jewish family living in Poland when the Nazis came, they tried to hide their most precious possessions (in this case paintings), a few members of the extended family escaped when it was possible to do so, the rest stayed, some survived, but Rynecki's great grandfather didn't. There have been documentaries, whole series, on art that was confiscated by the Nazis but this was not the case with Rynecki's paintings because he was not well-known like Renoir or Vermeer. But his paintings had meaning to his family and were interesting to others because they documented a traditional way of life that disappeared when the Nazi's invaded. Rynecki might even have become well-known had he and more of his painting left Poland. Although some people were very helpful to the author in her search, it comes as no surprise that many people were not, either out of apathy or fear. People who had access to a few of her great grandfather's paintings told her that they would send photos that they ended up sending months later, or not at all. Several museums actually went out of their way to avoid giving her information or sending photos.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Swensonbooks

    When Elizabeth Rynecki reads her grandfather's journal of his escape from the Nazis after his funeral, she begins a decades long search for her great-grandfather's art around the world. The story of her transformation from claimant to historian makes this a distinctive and extraordinary account of reclamation. Instead of pursuing ownership, she seeks recognition of his artistic contributions and shares with the world images of his paintings which offer a visual ethnography of a time and place de When Elizabeth Rynecki reads her grandfather's journal of his escape from the Nazis after his funeral, she begins a decades long search for her great-grandfather's art around the world. The story of her transformation from claimant to historian makes this a distinctive and extraordinary account of reclamation. Instead of pursuing ownership, she seeks recognition of his artistic contributions and shares with the world images of his paintings which offer a visual ethnography of a time and place destroyed during WWII. Because of the subject matter in the paintings, the artwork would not have been stolen by Nazis as they would have considered it "degenerate art" and destroyed it. The complicated world of Holocaust art restitution is explained clearly through the challenges she faced in tracking down Moshe Rynecki's paintings. Part detective story, part history, part personal transformation, it reads like fiction yet is based on solid research and thorough documentation. This is far more than a story about one family and what they lost in the war. It’s a fresh approach to understanding history in shades of grey instead of black and white. Highly recommend.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Katie B

    Elizabeth Rynecki has spent decades searching for some of her Polish great-grandfather's paintings that have been missing since the start of World War Two. She realizes the importance of recovering his art not only for the Jewish community but the world at large. So many pieces of art were either stolen or destroyed during the war that she realizes finding any of his artwork will be an enormous challenge. I have read books before written by a family member about their family history. Sometimes wh Elizabeth Rynecki has spent decades searching for some of her Polish great-grandfather's paintings that have been missing since the start of World War Two. She realizes the importance of recovering his art not only for the Jewish community but the world at large. So many pieces of art were either stolen or destroyed during the war that she realizes finding any of his artwork will be an enormous challenge. I have read books before written by a family member about their family history. Sometimes what might be interesting to the family doesn't translate very well in the book. Thankfully, the author does a wonderful job detailing her family's history and why it is so important to her to preserve the past for future generations. I am so thankful I won a free copy of this book in a giveaway because this is a story that needs to be shared with the world. The photos of some of Moshe Rynecki's artwork included in the book are beautiful. I recommend this book not only to art lovers but to anyone interested in reading about the history of those who lost their lives in The Holocaust.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Elizabeth Rynecki knew that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and that Great-Grandpa Moshe was a painter who was murdered by the Nazis. As a kid, she picked up pieces of their stories, not really understanding it until she inherited her grandfather's memoir of wartime Poland, and appreciated that the stash of 800 paintings Moshe hid with friends and fellow artists in 1939 were turning up in collections and museums across Europe and America, with no acknowledgement of their provenance. A Elizabeth Rynecki knew that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and that Great-Grandpa Moshe was a painter who was murdered by the Nazis. As a kid, she picked up pieces of their stories, not really understanding it until she inherited her grandfather's memoir of wartime Poland, and appreciated that the stash of 800 paintings Moshe hid with friends and fellow artists in 1939 were turning up in collections and museums across Europe and America, with no acknowledgement of their provenance. As the family began this investigation at the dawn of personal internet, Rynecki describes their primitive website, requests on discussion boards for people to report sightings of his work, the Byzantine international laws governing artwork and repatriation of cultural objects, and the dark history of sweeping inconvenient events under the rug when money is at stake.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen Anthony

    An inspiring and yet realistic look at what a family goes through when trying to recover the possessions, history and culture stolen from them by WWII. A compelling read -- I'm already looking forward to the documentary. Full disclosure: I've had the pleasure of knowing Elizabeth since graduate school and have watched her journey from afar for many years. Even that knowledge, however, did not prepare me for the bare knuckled dedication Elizabeth shows in the pages of this book. An inspiring and yet realistic look at what a family goes through when trying to recover the possessions, history and culture stolen from them by WWII. A compelling read -- I'm already looking forward to the documentary. Full disclosure: I've had the pleasure of knowing Elizabeth since graduate school and have watched her journey from afar for many years. Even that knowledge, however, did not prepare me for the bare knuckled dedication Elizabeth shows in the pages of this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathrin

    This was the August 2018 read of the Litsy Book Club and I went into this book knowing nothing about it... and I started it too late. So when the video chat with the author came around, I was barely at 25%. Nevertheless, the online discussion made me want to get through this even faster. The author recounts the life of her great-grandfather, how the family was separated in WWII and how her dad along with his parents ended up in the USA. But really the book starts here by following the author's q This was the August 2018 read of the Litsy Book Club and I went into this book knowing nothing about it... and I started it too late. So when the video chat with the author came around, I was barely at 25%. Nevertheless, the online discussion made me want to get through this even faster. The author recounts the life of her great-grandfather, how the family was separated in WWII and how her dad along with his parents ended up in the USA. But really the book starts here by following the author's quest for her great-grandfathers pictures, not to claim them, but to experience them. On the way, the readers sees Rynecki following the rollercoaster of such a task while also being a wife, a mother and a daughter. The book is written in a fairly informal way and for me as a reader it made it more relatable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Abbi

    I really enjoyed her journey to understanding her great grandfather through his art. I was actually more engaged with the story than I thought I would. The way she used a mix of dialogue (from letters) and her first-person point of view was really easy to connect with. I also liked that she didn't leave out the tough situations when people refused her viewing the art or losing track of a lead. It was very personal and touching. I really enjoyed her journey to understanding her great grandfather through his art. I was actually more engaged with the story than I thought I would. The way she used a mix of dialogue (from letters) and her first-person point of view was really easy to connect with. I also liked that she didn't leave out the tough situations when people refused her viewing the art or losing track of a lead. It was very personal and touching.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lynda

    After viewing Chasing Portraits, the excellent documentary film, at the Cleveland Museum of Art, I did not feel ready to put its subject to rest so I obtained a copy of this book. The fact that the hardbound edition contains clear photos of some of Moshi Rynecki's significant works gave me the opportunity to contemplate them on my own time. This is a very unique account on many levels. The section on the holocaust years is based on the memoir written by the author's grandfather, which she discov After viewing Chasing Portraits, the excellent documentary film, at the Cleveland Museum of Art, I did not feel ready to put its subject to rest so I obtained a copy of this book. The fact that the hardbound edition contains clear photos of some of Moshi Rynecki's significant works gave me the opportunity to contemplate them on my own time. This is a very unique account on many levels. The section on the holocaust years is based on the memoir written by the author's grandfather, which she discovered following his death. It touched me deeply. Elizabeth's account of her tireless search for her great-grandfather's priceless paintings and drawings is fascinating--like unraveling a mystery, with many twists and turns. Moshi Rynecki was a truly gifted artist whose legacy lives on in galleries, homes, and his great-granddaughter's heart.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sharon K.

    On the day of Donald Trump's inauguration, reading Chasing Portraits hhas elped me keep my perspective. Trump's instability and ego-centered motivation could destroy the United States. The fear that so many of us feel today is probably partly due to a cultural memory of the cruelty and inhumanity of the Nazis that really happened. This book doesn't spend a lot of time describing those horrors, but it is clearly trying to understand that time. I needed this book to remind me that we are not being On the day of Donald Trump's inauguration, reading Chasing Portraits hhas elped me keep my perspective. Trump's instability and ego-centered motivation could destroy the United States. The fear that so many of us feel today is probably partly due to a cultural memory of the cruelty and inhumanity of the Nazis that really happened. This book doesn't spend a lot of time describing those horrors, but it is clearly trying to understand that time. I needed this book to remind me that we are not being loaded into cattle cars and burned to death now. But I agree that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In Chasing Portraits, the author, Elizabeth Rynecki, describes her detective work to locate paintings done by her great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki. He was prolific in his desire and ability to document the daily lives of the Jewish people as Hitler tried to wipe them out, but only a small percentage of them are available. Rynecki herself is sometimes unable to even view his art work; people are sometimes worried she will try to claim them as hers. She struggles with this, because she does feel they should be in her family (or at least available for them to see). But slowly she begins to feel that art museums at least offer care at a level she would not be able to give, The curiosity that the author brings to this long-term project is fascinating to read about. Heartbreaking and even wonderfully fulfilling at times, her step-by-step approach into a partially unknown historical era is offered in a consistently engaging way. She brings herself into this process honestly. She thinks about how awful it was for her to be visiting Majdanek (a Nazi concentration camp) caught in the rain and cold for hours, She immediately considers what her relatives had to endure: “It was hard to imagine surviving a single day here, much less months or years”. (p. 287) Rynecki's book has the pace of a mystery story: “When you start collecting bits and pieces of data, it isn't always clear how it will all coalesce to create a coherent whole...I've repeatedly learned first hand how disparate pieces of the seemingly insignificant research can suddenly become monumentally important when combined.” (p. 350, Chasing Portraits) As Trump's administration moves ahead on shutting down art grants, positing legalized violence against protestors and immigrants, how do we move ahead? Will our artists, like Moshe Rynecki, have to hide their art in basements or with trusted friends who may not be in as clear danger?? How can we survive culturally and physically, in a time when our leadership rejects free speech and dissident expression? These are not simple questions, nor does this book directly provide the answers. But Rynecki's ability to share her great-grandfather with the world has helped me to feel hope, even in these dark times. Btw, this book can be read as an historical quest without the current politics overriding the story; but I finished reading it today, 1/20/17.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Porter

    The subtitle of the book is “A great-granddaughter’s quest for her lost art legacy” but this book is so much more. It’s the author’s quest to find her own place in history. Elizabeth’s great-grandfather Moshe was a Warsaw-based painter during the Interwar years, and focused on documenting Jewish religious life and Jewish culture. Before the war Moshe divided canvases and papers among friends for safe-keeping. After the war, only a fraction of the artwork was recovered. Where is the rest? Elizabe The subtitle of the book is “A great-granddaughter’s quest for her lost art legacy” but this book is so much more. It’s the author’s quest to find her own place in history. Elizabeth’s great-grandfather Moshe was a Warsaw-based painter during the Interwar years, and focused on documenting Jewish religious life and Jewish culture. Before the war Moshe divided canvases and papers among friends for safe-keeping. After the war, only a fraction of the artwork was recovered. Where is the rest? Elizabeth has devoted years to that question, and, remarkably, has tracked down paintings across the globe. The search for the lost artwork was fascinating. But, I found her personal journey equally engaging. I appreciated the way she honestly — and sometimes with remarkable vulnerability — brought the reader along on her journey of coming to terms with her personal expectations for the art, meeting the current owners of the artwork, and learning the place in history of her great-grandfather’s paintings. This book is different than other Holocaust literature in that it addresses not only what — and who — was lost, but the complex responsibilities of the generations that follow.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Susan Tripp

    I read this book every day at work on my lunch break. I had to force myself not to take it home and read more. My lunch reading time is special and I look forward to a good book. This was a great book. Elizabeth's style in writing this book, her journey to discover her past and her great-grandfather's art, pulled me in and I sometimes forgot I was reading a book. I felt fear, anxiety, sadness, happiness, anger, and love. I didn't want the book to end but was anxious to know how much she discover I read this book every day at work on my lunch break. I had to force myself not to take it home and read more. My lunch reading time is special and I look forward to a good book. This was a great book. Elizabeth's style in writing this book, her journey to discover her past and her great-grandfather's art, pulled me in and I sometimes forgot I was reading a book. I felt fear, anxiety, sadness, happiness, anger, and love. I didn't want the book to end but was anxious to know how much she discovered. Her story opened up my eyes to what holocaust survivors' families may be dealing with or up against when trying to recapture or just learn and research what is rightfully theirs. Elizabeth is so careful and respectful of the people she encounters, the owners of her family's art, that you can't help but like her and appreciate her journey. I hope there is a Chasing Portraits 2 in the future.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Skye Iwanski

    The snapshots that Moshe Rynecki captures in his paintings are mesmerizingly photographic in content. Through the lens of his paintbrush he captured the WWII era Polish-Jewish community around him in his folk-style paintings. These mere moments of Jewish-Polish life are more widely available to the public eye because of the monumental amount of work Elizabeth Rynecki has done to eradicate the erasure of the Jewish-Polish perspective before and during WWII. Fueled by an internal, gut-wrenching pu The snapshots that Moshe Rynecki captures in his paintings are mesmerizingly photographic in content. Through the lens of his paintbrush he captured the WWII era Polish-Jewish community around him in his folk-style paintings. These mere moments of Jewish-Polish life are more widely available to the public eye because of the monumental amount of work Elizabeth Rynecki has done to eradicate the erasure of the Jewish-Polish perspective before and during WWII. Fueled by an internal, gut-wrenching pull to learn about and share not only the work but the messages of the art itself, Chasing Portraits tells the story of how one woman embarked on a journey to recover hundreds of paintings that had been scattered across the globe since they had been hidden away in bundles during the second World War. This is a nonfiction narrative tale to appeal to anyone who has an interest in historic art, Jewish-Polish history, folk art, the WWII period, or anyone who is willing to pick up a book and learn. The book is laden with black and white scans of Moshe Rynecki’s artwork, and in the center of the book there is a full-color insert of many more scans and photographs. There would be no Chasing Portraits without Elizabeth Rynecki—her drive to share her great-grandfather’s work with the world is what made this novel, and it is fueling the documentary film that is currently in post-production. Themes of both legacy and of persistence in the face of challenges that would make even the boldest person haggard are vividly present in this book. Though the gales of paperwork, technicalities, and slow communications pushed her backwards, Elizabeth Rynecki struggled ever-forward with the intention of sharing her great-grandfather’s work, the ever-present drive in her fight. Because of the wildly rare perspective, Moshe Rynecki’s work is invaluable not only to the Rynecki family for sentimental and heritage reasons, but it also provides a glimpse of what it was like to live in the ghetto, what fantastic colors were present at the fairground and the marketplace, how lovely weddings were, and, most importantly, how full of vitality the people Moshe painted were. From intimate scenes of prayer to scenes of joyous dance to scenes of children crowded around a window, their excitement palpable, even contagious; these are the bits of ordinary life that Moshe Rynecki made extraordinary simply by doing what he loved. The oppressed Jewish-Polish people were not to be trampled underfoot; their culture was still impossibly strong despite their unfavorable circumstances. Moshe was able to capture the beauty of this with his unique style of painting. The rampage upon any sort of culture that happened during the WWII era makes Mr. Rynecki’s perspective an incomparably unique one. The book succeeds on its own, sans emotions, though you will find yourself getting frustrated when Elizabeth gets frustrated, relieved when she is relieved, ecstatic when she is, etc. This book covers a very important topic that is necessary for understanding the bigger portrait of WWII and its effects on Jewish-Polish culture.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Steadman

    Well. This book was not quite what I expected. I’m not sure if it was the diary style writing or that the promised mystery was just not very well written. This book relates to two subjects I’m both fascinated by and read often. One being art the other being the holocaust. This book did not compare well to others I’ve read previously. The story spans many years and while it’s clear the writer is deeply passionate about what she is doing, searching for the misplaced or missing art of her great gra Well. This book was not quite what I expected. I’m not sure if it was the diary style writing or that the promised mystery was just not very well written. This book relates to two subjects I’m both fascinated by and read often. One being art the other being the holocaust. This book did not compare well to others I’ve read previously. The story spans many years and while it’s clear the writer is deeply passionate about what she is doing, searching for the misplaced or missing art of her great grandfather, it surprises me that it took her over a decade to actually see some of his works she was obsessing over despite being in contact with owners or knowing the locations of some of his more accessible work. Like a museum. I don’t want to come off as terribly insensitive but there was a constant sense of entitlement despite her never having any clue about the true provenance of the works. At the end of the day, we don’t know if the paintings were stolen from their guardians or just misplaced in the chaos of war. Some how, she felt that her relationship to the artist meant that everything he did should belong to her whether it was bought or gifted from the artist himself or was found in the trash it should be hanging somewhere in her house right now even though she later admits she sometimes forgets about the ones that are already there. Can you imagine a relative of Van Gogh with this claim? In some ways I can understand where she is coming from. In others, where the artist actually gave his work to people (not speaking of the bundles), I just don’t understand her reasoning. She repeatedly writes about how she wants people she meets with possession of paintings to just gift her one. Don’t we all wish that when we go into a museum or antique store and see something we covet but can not afford? She really seems to try and get the reader to side with her by saying things like, People tell me all the time “It’s despicable others have what properly should be yours.” etc etc etc. It just became a little exhausting. Further more, She wants people to appreciate his art as much as she does yet won’t loan it to any museum so it’s just sitting at her house. Yet is upset that other holders refuse to make paintings accessible. Anyway, that’s my rant. I didn’t hate it I just didn’t love it. Time probably would have been better spent watching the documentary.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Cindy H.

    A heartfelt tribute of a great granddaughter’s determination to find her great grandfather’s art that was scattered and separated due to WWII. Moshe Rynecki vividly captured everyday Polish life in his paintings from the early 1900’s until his deportation to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940. Knowing that his art might not survive the move to theJewish Ghetto, Rynecki with his wife and son, removed his collection of some 800 pieces from his home and bundled them into groups of 100 paintings. He then gav A heartfelt tribute of a great granddaughter’s determination to find her great grandfather’s art that was scattered and separated due to WWII. Moshe Rynecki vividly captured everyday Polish life in his paintings from the early 1900’s until his deportation to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940. Knowing that his art might not survive the move to theJewish Ghetto, Rynecki with his wife and son, removed his collection of some 800 pieces from his home and bundled them into groups of 100 paintings. He then gave them to friends and family to hold for him until he could return. Unfortunately, Rynecki perished at Majdanek Extermination Camp. After the war, his wife and son were only able to recover 1 out of the 8 bundles. For the next 60 years the family will search near and far to gather information in hopes of discovering where the missing art went and to see which pieces survived the war. A remarkable story of love, family and art. The hardcover edition contains wonderful family photographs and several pieces of Mr. Rynecki’s work, which is hauntingly beautiful.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Gilion Dumas

    Moshe Rynecki was a painter and sculptor who created over 800 paintings and sculptures in pre-war Warsaw. When the Nazis came, he entrusted his art to friends who hid it for him, but when he was killed in the Majdanek concentration camp, his works scattered. Inspired by Moshe's son's journal describing the art, Elizabeth Rynecki, Moshe's great-granddaughter, worked with art curators, historians, and other supporters to find and catalog Moshe's body of work. The book is a compelling mix of memoir, Moshe Rynecki was a painter and sculptor who created over 800 paintings and sculptures in pre-war Warsaw. When the Nazis came, he entrusted his art to friends who hid it for him, but when he was killed in the Majdanek concentration camp, his works scattered. Inspired by Moshe's son's journal describing the art, Elizabeth Rynecki, Moshe's great-granddaughter, worked with art curators, historians, and other supporters to find and catalog Moshe's body of work. The book is a compelling mix of memoir, family history, art catalog, and detective story. It is also an important testimony to an artist who depicted the everyday lives of the Polish-Jewish community before that way of life, and his own, was destroyed.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lynette

    This book isn't anything like the books I usually read or listen to. I found it on Overdrive and it sounded interesting. After a few hours of listening, I searched online to find photos of the paintings that were the focus of this story. Seeing them made the story come more alive. I appreciate how much personal information Elizabeth shared. I feel like I know her family a little bit and it gave me a whole new way to view the holocaust. I also learned a lot about art. I'm glad I came across this This book isn't anything like the books I usually read or listen to. I found it on Overdrive and it sounded interesting. After a few hours of listening, I searched online to find photos of the paintings that were the focus of this story. Seeing them made the story come more alive. I appreciate how much personal information Elizabeth shared. I feel like I know her family a little bit and it gave me a whole new way to view the holocaust. I also learned a lot about art. I'm glad I came across this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Ford

    Chasing Portraits is a personal and visceral read that you won’t soon forget. The book chronicles Elizabeth Rynecki’s emotional quest to find her Polish-Jewish great-grandfather’s paintings that were lost during World War II. His artwork serves as a beautiful and sorrowful time capsule for Jewish communities that were essentially wiped out by the Nazis. How Rynecki was able to harness her emotions and get something coherent and readable on the page, I’ll never know. I very much look forward to s Chasing Portraits is a personal and visceral read that you won’t soon forget. The book chronicles Elizabeth Rynecki’s emotional quest to find her Polish-Jewish great-grandfather’s paintings that were lost during World War II. His artwork serves as a beautiful and sorrowful time capsule for Jewish communities that were essentially wiped out by the Nazis. How Rynecki was able to harness her emotions and get something coherent and readable on the page, I’ll never know. I very much look forward to seeing the documentary she’s working on! (Tissues will be required.)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy Rice

    Elizabeth Rynwecki's memoir is both a moving tribute to her great-grandfather's life and lasting artistic legacy and a powerful story from one of the darkest times in man's history, World War II and the Holocaust. I was excited to be introduced to Moshe Rynwecki's paintings of Polish-Jewish life from the pre-war era and equally excited to be introduced to a tremendous author and loving and meticulous historian. Elizabeth Rynwecki's memoir is both a moving tribute to her great-grandfather's life and lasting artistic legacy and a powerful story from one of the darkest times in man's history, World War II and the Holocaust. I was excited to be introduced to Moshe Rynwecki's paintings of Polish-Jewish life from the pre-war era and equally excited to be introduced to a tremendous author and loving and meticulous historian.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Audrey Arnold

    This book is one that I have greatly enjoyed reading. It reads like a fiction story, as Rynecki writes in first person. However, it is nonfiction, and this fact makes the book's story and message that much more impactful. Intertwining art, history, family legacy, and mystery, I found this book to be a moving, heartfelt account of not only the author's personal journey, but also of the ways in which families were affected by World War II and the Holocaust. Definitely a must-read. This book is one that I have greatly enjoyed reading. It reads like a fiction story, as Rynecki writes in first person. However, it is nonfiction, and this fact makes the book's story and message that much more impactful. Intertwining art, history, family legacy, and mystery, I found this book to be a moving, heartfelt account of not only the author's personal journey, but also of the ways in which families were affected by World War II and the Holocaust. Definitely a must-read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    The author doesn't exactly recover the long-lost art of her great-grandfather, but she goes on a quest to see and catalog his work. I found some parts/experiences/emotions somewhat repetitive but it was still pretty interesting. It makes you sad to think of what all might be lost for good and makes you wonder if there is still more to be discovered when it comes to the art of that time period. The author doesn't exactly recover the long-lost art of her great-grandfather, but she goes on a quest to see and catalog his work. I found some parts/experiences/emotions somewhat repetitive but it was still pretty interesting. It makes you sad to think of what all might be lost for good and makes you wonder if there is still more to be discovered when it comes to the art of that time period.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    Holocaust, war crimes, stolen lives are all part of this great-granddaughter's search to find paintings that her great-grandfather sought to hide from the Nazis. This story is emotional as she researches and travels to find his art legacy. Holocaust, war crimes, stolen lives are all part of this great-granddaughter's search to find paintings that her great-grandfather sought to hide from the Nazis. This story is emotional as she researches and travels to find his art legacy.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    It is a remarkable book that is all about researching and finding more art that was created by her great grandfather. I highly recommend this book! It is a combination of a mystery, art and researching her family's legacy of her Jewish roots in Poland. It is a remarkable book that is all about researching and finding more art that was created by her great grandfather. I highly recommend this book! It is a combination of a mystery, art and researching her family's legacy of her Jewish roots in Poland.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Avi Alany

    A lovely book that inspires admiration for Elizabeth's quest for lost paintings and introduces us to a major Jewish artist. A lovely book that inspires admiration for Elizabeth's quest for lost paintings and introduces us to a major Jewish artist.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    This is a wonderfully written book and a story that is emotional on many levels.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Niranjana

    An intelligent, moving, and utterly compelling story of the author's search for her great-grandfather's art, which bore witness to what he saw and experienced before his death in the Holocaust. An intelligent, moving, and utterly compelling story of the author's search for her great-grandfather's art, which bore witness to what he saw and experienced before his death in the Holocaust.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul Hefti

    A great story of both historical interest and insatiable curiosity. I was left wanting more.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Addie

    I really admire the author's persistence. She told her story very well. It inspired me to find out more about my family's history. I really admire the author's persistence. She told her story very well. It inspired me to find out more about my family's history.

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