I’ve been asked if After the Auction is autobiographical. It’s not.
But the injustice of the unreturned looted art, real estate, and bank accounts perpetuates Nazi treachery for countless families six decades after the end of World War II. It’s an aspect of Holocaust history that first intrigued me when my mother told me about a man she’d met during the war, a man with a fabulous art and Judaica collection.
When I began the research that has led to After the Auction, I expected it to lead to a biography of this man. This was in the 1970s and 1980s, and my first sources were magazines and auction catalogues. Digging deeper, I found that people who knew him well, including his widow, refused to be interviewed. Once, I mentioned the man’s name in a New York City gallery, and the previously friendly owner turned his back and waved me off. Of course, I didn’t buy anything, either.
Was there some deep, dark secret about this man and his art collection? I began to conjure one up, and my first novel developed.
After the Auction is set in 1990, deliberately. First of all, the character of Nachman Tanski, a contemporary of protagonist Lily Kovner’s dead parents, has to be still living and functioning, albeit at age 96.
In addition, I wanted to set this before the considerable publicity on looted art that surfaced in the 1990s with publications by Lynn Nicholas, Hector Feliciano, Jonathan Petropoulos, and others. These nonfiction works and the 1997 scandal of the stolen Schiele loaned by Austria to a Museum of Modern Art exhibit and detained in New York City reignited Nazi looting issues that had been submerged for years. This publicity led to new museum policies, international registries, and, in some individual and class-action cases, settlements for injustices that had lingered since the end of World War II.
I started my research years before all this. With a filmmaker friend, in 1999, I tried, in vain, to raise money to produce a documentary like “The Rape of Europa,” which came out in 2006.
When you read After the Auction, you’ll see why I wanted Lily to be ahead of her time, ahead of all the publicity and the established channels. Even ahead of the Internet and Google.