The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Fam­i­ly’s Cen­tu­ry of Art and Loss

By – September 1, 2011

In the mid-19th cen­tu­ry the Ephrus­si fam­i­ly, who made their for­tune as grain importers, sent their two eldest sons from Odessa to expand their reach into bank­ing and build­ing in West­ern Europe.

Ignace and Leon set­tled into a man­sion in Vien­na and set to work, estab­lish­ing their fam­i­lies and build­ing new for­tunes. A decade lat­er, Leon moved to Paris and estab­lished him­self there. With their wealth the Ephrus­si broth­ers gained pow­er, and their abil­i­ty to build and to buy result­ed in vast col­lec­tions of art, and a palace or two, enabling them to sur­round them­selves with the great artis­tic and lit­er­ary tal­ents of the day.

In the next gen­er­a­tion it was Charles Ephrus­si who assem­bled not only clas­si­cal and impres­sion­ist art, but also Japan­ese gold and black lac­quer box­es and the minia­ture carv­ings known as net­suke. His col­lec­tion of these ivory fig­urines was among the few art col­lec­tions that sur­vived the black years of Nazi pow­er, and was sub­se­quent­ly inher­it­ed by the author, inspir­ing his research into his family’s his­to­ry and this book.

The remark­able Ephrus­si fam­i­ly and their accom­plish­ments have been giv­en new life by de Waal, who has writ­ten with verve and exact­ness of the art and excite­ment of their lives, and the brief cen­tu­ry of pow­er they enjoyed. He also relates how the bright light of Jew­ish life and cul­ture was almost extin­guished by the Nazi evil, which swept away not only the lit­tle Jew­ish vil­lages, but also the man­sions and palaces erect­ed by Jew­ish wealth.

He tells how the net­suke were saved by a ser­vant of the fam­i­ly, who car­ried them out of the palace, now Nazi head­quar­ters, one piece at a time, dan­ger­ous­ly in her pocket.

The author rests his sto­ry in Lon­don, where he keeps the net­suke in a vit­rine, allow­ing his read­ers to deci­pher the sym­bol­ism they represent.

Claire Rudin is a retired direc­tor of the New York City school library sys­tem and for­mer librar­i­an at the Holo­caust Resource Cen­ter and Archives in Queens, NY. She is the author of The School Librar­i­an’s Source­book and Chil­dren’s Books About the Holocaust.

Discussion Questions

Guide has been com­piled by Chat­to & Win­dus, to give you more infor­ma­tion about the book, Edmund, the net­suke and more. Down­load it here.