Woman on Fire: Nazi-looted Art – the Story that Burns Within

I’m delighted to have Lisa Barr on the blog today. Lisa is the author of WOMAN ON FIRE, THE UNBREAKABLES and an award-winning WWII historical thriller FUGITIVE COLORS. Lisa’s career includes being an editor for The Jerusalem Post, managing editor of Today’s Chicago Woman, and managing editor of Moment magazine. Today, she shares the story behind her writing. When you read it, you will realize that she too is a woman on fire.


I try to imagine what would happen if my laptop and phone were confiscated, my ability to access research was quashed, my manuscript set afire, my editor and anyone in the writing world arrested for working with me – and anything I write would be considered a crime against my country. 

This was the fate for scores of writers, artists, teachers, architects, entertainers in Nazi Germany. The “idea-makers” were persecuted for their creativity and not complying with the Aryan ideal of “what is art”.  Hitler and his henchmen were determined to eradicate those he considered to be the “degenerate” and influential segment of German society. They went after the avant-garde – particularly artists – with a vengeance and cruelty never seen before.   


As a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I needed to know what made someone both a murderous madman and an artist bent on destroying other artists. Through my research I discovered that Hitler before he rose to power was once a painter. He’d been rejected twice from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. His work was considered mediocre, uninspiring, behind the times. He resorted to selling painted postcards on the street and later house painting to make a living – his dream of living as a true artist was never realized.

I believe these early rejections paved the way for what would come later … payback. From 1933 – 1945, the Nazi “elite” destroyed thousands of artworks, confiscated the most valuable paintings for themselves, and sold major “Degenerate” works to anonymous buyers through secret Swiss auctions, and then poured the profits into the Nazi war machine. 

It was a cultural rape and robbery on an unprecedented scale, beginning in Germany and spreading like wildfire throughout Europe.

This period of history not only fascinated me, but also it found me … Flashback to 1991, when I was a young reporter and editor living in Chicago assigned to cover an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago called “Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany”. When I walked into the museum and viewed the walls filled with artwork that the Nazis denigrated, chills covered my entire body. I knew right then that I was not simply covering a storyI had discovered the story that would forever change the course of my career. Soon after, I pivoted from journalist to author, writing about this aspect of Holocaust history that remains to this day front-page news: Nazi-looted art.  

Over a 10-year period – between babies, jobs, divorce, and remarriage — I researched and wrote what evolved into my award-winning debut historical thriller FUGITIVE COLORS, a suspenseful tale of stolen art, love, lust, friendship, jealousy, deception, and revenge on the “eve” of World War II. It is the story of what happens to young Julian Klein, who gave up his orthodox religion to move from Chicago to Paris to paint freely … and the price tag for following his passion. 

My second novel, THE UNBREAKABLES, while it is contemporary – still revolves around art. It is the story of Sophie Bloom, a sculptor who loses her marriage, herself, and her passion, only to rediscover her joie de vivre – a lust for life, love, and art – in the South of France. It’s sexy, empowering, and artful. 

My new novel, WOMAN ON FIRE (HarperCollins, March 1, 2022) combines it all. It marks a return to both my stolen art and journalistic roots. The novel is a gripping tale of a young, savvy journalist who gets embroiled in a major international art scandal centered around a Nazi-looted masterpiece – an Expressionist painting by an artist murdered by the Nazis – forcing the ultimate showdown between passion and possession, lovers and liars, history and truth.

The novel is historical, contemporary, and suspenseful – and of course, filled with strong, fiery women and risky journalistic pursuits. As a writer, I have tried repeatedly to choose a different historical path  … but then, like a woman fighting an undertow, I’m pulled back in, unable to relinquish my Bohemian painters and their provocative brushstrokes set against a WWII canvas. For me, this is the most powerful, destructive, and compelling period of history that has cleaved to my soul. Like an Expressionist painting, it evokes all my emotion, stirs my imagination, and just won’t let me go. 

Thanks, Lisa, for sharing your passion. The compulsion to understand history and the people who launched such horror upon individuals and ultimately, the world is a powerful force. I wonder what will be said about our time and some of those using their power to destroy others?

Lisa’s new novel, Woman on Fire, is available for pre-order. It will be published in March 2022. You can contact Lisa on social media at her website www.lisabarr.com on Instagram/Twitter: @lisabarr18, or on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/FugitiveColors

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr ~~ After talking her way into a job with Dan Mansfield, the leading investigative reporter in Chicago, rising young journalist Jules Roth is given an unusual–and very secret–assignment. Dan needs her to locate a painting stolen by the Nazis more than 75 years earlier: legendary Expressionist artist Ernst Engel’s most famous work, Woman on Fire. World-renowned shoe designer Ellis Baum wants this portrait of a beautiful, mysterious woman for deeply personal reasons, and has enlisted Dan’s help to find it. But Jules doesn’t have much time; the famous designer is dying.

Meanwhile, in Europe, provocative and powerful Margaux de Laurent also searches for the painting. Heir to her art collector family’s millions, Margaux is a cunning gallerist who gets everything she wants. The only thing standing in her way is Jules. Yet the passionate and determined Jules has unexpected resources of her own, including Adam Baum, Ellis’s grandson. A recovering addict and brilliant artist in his own right, Adam was once in Margaux’s clutches. He knows how ruthless she is, and he’ll do anything to help Jules locate the painting before Margaux gets to it first.

A thrilling tale of secrets, love, and sacrifice that illuminates the destructive cruelty of war and greed and the triumphant power of beauty and love, Woman on Fire tells the story of a remarkable woman and an exquisite work of art that burns bright, moving through hands, hearts, and history.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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One Response

  1. All three of Lisa Barr’s novels are excellent reads! But Woman on Fire kicks everything up a notch! I have two words for you ~ READ IT!

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