Our lost Chagall (2012)

(Ett försvunnet konstverk) Lena Einhorn Film and Sveriges Television; 58 min.
Writer: Lena Einhorn
Producer: Lena Einhorn
Photographers: Dan Myhrman, Lena Einhorn and Bengt Berg
Editor: Maria Sleszynska

Göring took them.

That’s what my dad used to say. Göring took them … Why Göring?

For this is what they said.

Was that really what “they” said? That it was Göring who took them? Could it not have been Goebbels or Himmler, or Ribbentrop, or Minister of Finance Walther Funk, or union leader Robert Ley – or Hitler himself? All of them, after all, laid their hands on stolen art.

But with regard to Pinkus Einhorn’s art, it was obviously Göring. Or that’s just what my father assumed, since Göring was the most “successful” art thief among the Nazi leaders.

My father, Jerzy Einhorn, who passed away in 2000, in fact described in detail what happened that day in November 1939, when three German officers came to their home, in the Polish city of Czestochowa. The story is found on page 118 of his memoir, Chosen to live:

At the beginning of November, 1939, the green German order police van drives into the big rear courtyard of our apartment block. Three policemen get out, come up the stairs and knock on our door. They are polite and wish to speak to “Herr Schneidermeister Pinkus Einhorn”, and ask if they may come into the living room – then do so before.

Pinkus has time to say they may. One is an officer – Oberleutnant – the other two subordinates, ordinary policemen, but the officer has an SS badge. He introduces himself – Oberleutnant Überscheer – without holding out his hand – you don’t shake hands with a Jew. Überscheer tells Pinkus that they have orders from Berlin to requisition seven paintings in our home – we are to be given a receipt. He takes out a list, shows it to Pinkus and asks with a sharp edge to his voice whether the listed paintings are still there in the apartment. Pinkus looks at the list and says – yes, that’s right, they are here.

I’ve heard this story about the confiscated paintings all my life, ever since I was very small. The story sparked my imagination, so when I was 18 years old, and visited my grandmother in Canada, I asked her to describe exactly the paintings that the Nazis had taken from their home. My father and uncle were also there,filling in the details. I wrote everything down in pencil, on a small piece of paper. I still have it. It reads: “Chagall: Man with beard and kipah. He holds a Torash. Black-white-red. 0.5 x 0.75 m ”

Why did I ask them that particular summer? Because I had just seen a program on television, a program where they showed a huge underground storage facility, filled with thousands of unclaimed works of art that the Nazis had stolen.

After seeing the documentary, and after receiving the description of the paintings, I called up the West German embassy in Stockholm. A man answered. I described my errand. He answered tersely, and quickly hung up. And I dropped my search. It would take forty years before I resumed it.

Our lost Chagall is the story of my two-year search for Pinkus Einhorn’s six stolen paintings – in German archives, among art experts, in auction catalogs, looking for German officers.

And it is the story of the small family Einhorn. The one that survived the Holocaust in the southern Polish Town of Czestochowa – that survied the the large ghetto, the small ghetto, and concentration camp Hasag. And that after the war chose to forget the six paintings the Nazis had stolen from them an autumn day, in late 1939.