Monday, December 20, 2010
Memories of Survival by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt 2005
Memories of Survival is a book of fascinating artwork and narration created by the Holocaust survivor Esther Nisenthal Krinitz (b. 1927) to present to viewers and readers scenes from her life between the years 1937 to 1949. In the Introduction, her daughter Bernice Steinhardt writes that her mother felt compelled to tell the stories of what happened to her family repeatedly, even trying to write them out in English and Yiddish. But it wasn’t until she turned to art at the age of 50 that she was really able to convey what happened in a way that is suitably dramatic and emotionally engaging.
Bernice Steinhardt writes that her mother learned how to sew at the age of eight and was expected to become a seamstress. Because of her training and talent, she brought to her artwork a skill in needlework that she exploited to the fullest, using the techniques of embroidery and fabric collage to create each intricately detailed panel.
The panels narrate the story of the round-up of the Jews in the small town of Mniszek in Poland and how she, at the age of 13, and her younger sister fled into the forest and disguised themselves as Christian peasants. When they were liberated by the Russians, they lived in a displaced person’s camp where each of the two sisters, the only survivors in their family, married survivors. Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and her family came to America in 1949 and settled in New York where she died in 2001 at the age of 74.
This book is published under the imprint of Hyperion Books for Children. The School Library Journal has classified it as a Young Adult book suitable for grade 6-9, and on one level this is a picture book with limited text which makes it easy for children to read. Esther Nisenthal Krinitz hand-stitched a date and a few sentences to describe each panel and the book reproduces those captions for each panel in larger print with commentary written by her daughter that fleshes out some of the details. However, like in all books for young readers, you do not get the larger complex historical picture.
The art work is also accessible to young readers, even though the panels are sophisticated works of art and would appeal to viewers of all ages. Though intricate in their construction, they have a primitive quality that recalls the Eden-like innocence of childhood. Early scenes from before the war recreate the bucolic setting of her childhood - family and community immersed in farm activities and seasonal Jewish holiday celebrations. But even as the evil of Nazism takes over, the vibrancy of the country setting is ever present. The Nazis were agents of death and destruction. They destroyed the Jewish community and tainted the landscape with their concentration camps (the panel that depicts the Maidenek concentration camp has almost no vegetation), but they did not destroy the artist’s memory of the vibrancy of the natural surroundings and the nature-centered human activity that stand in opposition to the unnatural, monstrous acts of the Nazis.
The family has set up an organization that circulates the artwork for educational purposes. To read about the goals of the organization and more about Esther Nisenthal Krinitz as well as to see all of the panels, click here.
Chaim – author/artist’s grandfather (It’s not clear whether maternal or paternal)
Hersh Nisenthal – married Rachel Prizant
Esther – Hersh and Rachel’s daughter; married Max Krinitz; author/artist
Bernice – daughter of Esther and Max; married to Bruce Steinhardt; author/writer
Rachel and Simon – children of Bernice and Bruce
Helene – daughter; of Esther and Max; married Jack McQuade
John Henry – son of Helene and Jack
Mania – Hersh and Rachel’s daughter; married Lipa
Harry and Rachel - children of Mania
Ruven Nisenthal – Hersh and Rachel’s son
Chana Nisenthal – Hersh and Rachel’s daughter
Leah Nisenthal – Hersh and Rachel’s daughter
The following places are all in Poland:
Janiszow prison camp
Maidenek concentration camp