JCC Jewish Bookfair Author Visit to Shed Light on Little Known Aspect of Holocaust History
Journalist, author, and “GIRLilla Warfare” blogger Lisa Barr’s journey to create her first novel began unobtrusively enough. The idea for Fugitive Colors, her award-winning debut novel about love, passion, friendship, and revenge on the eve of WWII,began more than 20 years ago. Serving as the managing editor of Today’s Chicago Woman, Barr was assigned to cover the 1991 opening of the Art Institute of Chicago’s “Degenerate Art” exhibit, and it changed the course of her career.
Barr said she had no idea what she was walking into. “I saw this exhibit and I was blown away. Back then, no one talked about stolen art. No one really knew about this small part of Holocaust history. It was truly an ‘a-ha’ moment for me,” Barr explained. She never imagined that Fugitive Colors would go on to earn critical acclaim as the 2014 IPPY Gold Medal Winner for Literary Fiction at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, or gain the attention of Hollywood producer Arthur Sarkissian (Rush Hour trilogy, While You Were Sleeping), who plans to turn the harrowing story of suspense, sacrifice, and stolen art into a film.
The “Degenerate Art” exhibition featured art recovered from a time when the Nazi regime was determined to destroy anything it deemed “offensive,” including art owned or created by Jews. It opened Barr’s eyes to a then-overlooked aspect of history which she slowly began turning into a novel, exploring madness and creation during the Holocaust. “I was trying to make sense of how someone like Hitler could be both an artist and a madman,” she said.
Once Barr determined that she would turn the true story of Nazi suppression and destruction of art and artists during World War II into a work of historical fiction, she spent the next several years researching and writing. On October 22, Barr will share what she discovered with the Columbus Jewish community at the JCC Jewish Bookfair.
During the 7 pm visit that will follow a 5:30 pm (by reservation only) dinner, and include a reading from the book, a Q&A session, and book signing, Barr will also discuss key moments in her journalism career, including covering the famous “handshake” between the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and President Bill Clinton. Another milestone in Barr’s career was that she was one of the only journalists to profile Leah Rabin following Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination.
As a reporter and editor for The Jerusalem Post, the Chicago Sun-Times, and Moment magazine, and as a wife and mother of three teenage daughters, Barr’s work has covered everything from “terrorism to cleavage,” she said. “From the politics and economics of Israel to the politics and economics of the home, I’ve gone full-circle,” said Barr, who admitted her writing truly cannot be pigeon-holed.
Nor can her story of a young artist’s revenge. The story of protagonist Julian Klein and his friends’ artistic endeavors was inspired by the “Degenerate Art” Exhibit held in Munich in 1937 — the official Nazi exhibition virtually banning all modern art and placing sanctions on the artists. The reader follows Julian’s turbulent journey as he tries to rescue some of the most important works of modern art, including his own.
“It’s a Holocaust story that doesn’t wrap things up in a bow, per se,” said Barr. Fugitive Colors is both thrilling and educational, sneaking historical truth in without being overbearing, Barr explained. “I love history and truth wrapped in fiction. I love when people can learn something from what I write but it comes through the back door,” she said. Barr traveled extensively, conducting interviews, gathering testimonials, and investigating a history that was almost lost. “I didn’t want to shove facts down readers’ throats. I wanted the relationships between the characters to set the tone and reveal the truth.”
Ultimately, Barr wanted the story of a young man who leaves everything behind to pursue his passion for art to shine through. While Julian leaves Ultra-Orthodox Judaism to dedicate himself to art, he still carries his religion with him to the artist community he embraces in its place, Barr explained. “Even when you leave Judaism, you take it wherever you are,” she said. “Throughout his journey, Julian is reminded of his roots. Those images follow him and haunt him in so many different ways.”
Barr, whose father is a Holocaust survivor, said that it was important for her to leave readers with a sense of hope. “What we cling to in our religion is the need to survive at all costs. …I do leave the reader with that sense. In the end, despite the trials and tribulations, you will be left with hope,” she said.
A deep love for the JCC also brings Barr to Columbus. She pointed out that her daughters all went to the JCC preschool in Washington, D.C., and she therefore holds a special place in her heart for all JCCs, including the Columbus JCC. “When I was a single mom, the JCC saved my life. They were there for me,” said Barr. She is eager to join the Columbus Jewish community for the JCC Jewish Bookfair dinner sponsored by the Raymond G. and Pauline Kahn Cultural Arts Endowment Fund and Hadassah.
What fascinates her most about this rarely glimpsed side of Holocaust history is the legacy it leaves behind. “Hitler’s War began with art, and ironically nearly 70 years later, this subject is still front-page news. I always say, if only art could talk … thousands of stolen paintings have a hidden past just waiting for the truth to be exposed. It is a secret history that I’m determined to unveil, in hopes of bringing this lost legacy to light.”
To learn more about this fascinating departure from the typical Holocaust tale, RSVP for the October 22 dinner and Jewish Bookfair reading with author Lisa Barr. Contact Cheryl Dritz at email@example.com or call (614) 231-2731 to purchase tickets to the dinner and/or the discussion. Fugitive Colors is also on sale now at 20% off, for a limited time, in the JCC lobby.