Artists who suffered under Nazis inspired novel

By Masada Siegel, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Lisa Barr
Lisa Barr

Little did journalist Lisa Barr know that covering an event in the early 1990s would change her own life story.

One of her assignments took her to the Art Institute of Chicago. At the time, Barr was entrenched in creating a novel, but the exhibit she was there to cover made her rethink everything.

“I had already written 150 pages of another manuscript about young terrorists,” she said. “At the time, I was serving as the managing editor of a women’s magazine in Chicago and I was sent on assignment to cover the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute. It was 1991. When I entered the exhibit hall, I literally stopped in my tracks, put the other manuscript on hold. I knew I had found my story, which would years later morph into Fugitive Colors, a suspenseful tale of art, love, lust, friendship, jealousy, and revenge during World War II.”

Barr will discuss Fugitive Colors as part of the DJCC’s Cultural Arts & Book Festival Community Arts Day on Oct. 20. The program will begin with hands-on art demonstrations and displays from artists across the Miami Valley. The DJCC will also host a creative children’s hour for ages 4 to 8 during Barr’s talk.

The Nazis’ “Degenerate Art” exhibition was first presented in Munich in 1937 with the intent of showing the German people the “immoral” influence of the avant-garde. The Nazis’ goal was to ridicule arts and expression.

It displayed approximately 650 works by artists such as Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee and Chagall. The art was depicted as evil as were the artists. Nearly three million people visited the show in Germany before its 12-city run ended in 1941.

The 1991 exhibition in Chicago was recreated with 150 works of art from the original showing.

“That exhibit opened up a new chapter for me,” Barr said. “I learned that the Third Reich was determined to destroy some of the greatest artists and artwork of our time, and was successful. Hitler’s obsession set the stage for the Reich’s eventual ‘rape’ of Europe: looting, confiscating, and selling some of the world’s greatest treasures and then pocketing the money into their treasure trove. I was both repulsed and intrigued, and knew I had to explore this in-depth.”

In Fugitive Colors, Julian Klein, a talented artist follows his passion, but it comes with a price: giving up his Orthodox way of life. He moves from Chicago to Paris at the onset of World War II and every decision he makes — even the smallest ones — plays a role in his future.

“Even as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I never knew about the Nazis relentless mission to destroy the avant-garde, particularly painters, “ Barr said. “The Nazis — in my world — had sent many members of my father’s family to Auschwitz.

Growing up, I had heard the stories of atrocities, and tales of survival. How could this have happened? But I had never known this small part of Holocaust history, the Holocaust of art.”

A journalist with more than two decades of experience, Barr was an editor for The Jerusalem Post for five years, covering Middle East politics, lifestyle, and terrorism. She also has written for Vogue and served as the managing editor of Moment magazine.

“There’s a line in my novel from my protagonist, Julian Klein,” she said. “When interrogated about being an artist, he was asked: ‘What if you were a plumber?’ Julian responded: ‘Then I would be painting the pipes.’ For me, writing is breathing, as painting is breathing for artists. One does not become an artist or a writer, one is born that way. Yes, technique, style, tone, plot, etc. can be learned. But a story that’s inside fighting to come out, is soul-deep. It has to be told no matter what.”

DJCC’s Cultural Arts & Book Festival presents Community Art Day on Sunday, Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Boonshoft CJCE, 525 Versailles Dr., Centerville, with author Lisa Barr at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 in advance, $8 at the door. R.S.V.P. to Karen Steiger at 853-0372 or go to

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