“Her paintings were very well done, with oil and gold trimmings,” friend Angeline Friedman said. “She was a perfectionist in a sense.”
Hannah was on her way to becoming a prominent painter in Poland when World War 2 began. As a Freedom Fighter, blowing up bridges, tunnels, and highways for the Polish resistance, Hannah took on her pseudonym of “Kali” the Hindu Goddess of death, and continued to use this name to sign future paintings. Wounded in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, Hannah was captured by Nazi troops and placed in a concentration camp. She managed to escape and make her way into Brussels with the help of U.S. troops and then later emigrated to Canada before settling in San Francisco in 1953. Before Kali died in 1998, at the age of 100, she left instructions that 78 of her paintings should be sent to the Polish Museum in Rapperswil, Switzerland.
“To my knowledge that was always her desire,” Friedman said of the paintings. “It was always supposed to go to Poland.”
The paintings however did not make it to Poland and were kept by relatives in a storage facility in Santa Rosa, California. The Polish government contacted the FBI to help track down the lost paintings and were eventually led to a family members house. The relative led the FBI to the storage facility and handed over the paintings voluntarily. The family explained that they held on to the works since 1998 because of the costs of shipping them and “perhaps a bit of emotional attachment.”
“After a conversation with us, it was agreed we would take them in and get them back to Switzerland where they belong,” Johnson of the FBI said.
Although the paintings are only worth an estimated $12,000 a piece, they are priceless to the Polish government who is still in search of some 80,000 pieces of art that were stolen by Nazi’s and Russians during WWII.
“I think, for Poles, it’s such an emotional thing,” said Caria Tomczykowska, President of the Polish Arts and Culture Foundation in San Francisco, “because Poland lost so much during the war.”
On Thursday, the artworks arrived at the museum in Rapperswil, Switzerland, that houses more than 140 years of Polish works from before the fall of the Soviet Union. The ceremony for the official handover of the works to the Museum in Rapperswil will be held June 16. Attendees will include the Minister of Culture, Bogdan Zdrojewski, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and representatives of the FBI.
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