Click to watch interview with Esther Nisenthal Krinitz (13 min)
(Photograph by Sanford Blum)

Holocaust survivor and artist Esther Nisenthal Krinitz was the inspiration for the founding of Art and Remembrance.

Esther was a survivor of the Holocaust in Poland. In October 1942, after living under Nazi occupation for 3 years, the Jews of the village of Mniszek were ordered to report to the nearby train station for “relocation.” The 15-year old Esther decided she would not go but would instead take her 13-year old sister Mania and look for work among Polish farmers.

Turned away by Polish friends and neighbors, the sisters assumed new names and evaded the Gestapo, pretending to be Catholic farm girls. They never saw their family again. After the war ended, the two sisters made their way to a Displaced Persons camp in Germany, where Esther met and married Max Krinitz. In 1949, Esther, Max, and their daughter Bernice immigrated to the United States.(Mania met and married Lipa Kalenberg, and moved to Israel, and many years later to Texas.)

In 1977, at the age of 50, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz began creating works of fabric art to share her story of survival during the Holocaust with her daughters. Trained as a dressmaker but untrained in art, she eventually created a collection of 36 fabric pictures of strong, vivid colors and striking details with a sense of folk-like realism. Meticulously stitched words beneath the pictures provide a narrative.

The combined effect of story and art is powerful. While the pictures are visually pleasing, a closer examination reveals the shocking incongruity between the pastoral surroundings and the human violence, terror and betrayal depicted. Tom Freudenheim, former director of the Berlin Jewish Museum, wrote: “These extraordinary pictures are very moving, but not in least bit sentimental. The compositional concepts are highly sophisticated. I was overwhelmed by what I saw.”

In June 1999, exactly 50 years after she left Europe, Esther Krinitz returned to her village of Mniszek to see what remained. The landscape of central Poland had not changed: farmers driving horse-drawn wooden wagons, red and yellow fields of poppy and mustard, women carrying baskets overflowing with ripe strawberries. Both in Mniszek and Grabowka, where she and Mania had hidden during the war, Esther met again with friends and neighbors from her childhood. “Yes, it was just like that!,” they said, when she showed them photographs of her art.

Esther died at the age of 74, in March 2001, after a long illness. Through the efforts of Art and Remembrance, founded in 2003, Esther’s art and story have reached and inspired audiences both directly, through the exhibit of her original works, Fabric of Survival, and indirectly, through a book, Memories of Survival (first published in 2005 by Hyperion Books), and an award-winning thirty-minute documentary, “Through the Eye of the Needle,” directed by Nina Shapiro-Perl. A 13-minute online video “Interview with Esther Nisenthal Krinitz” by Lawrence Kasdan can be viewed on our site.

Pictured, left to right: Harold Nissenthal (Esther’s cousin), Helene McQuade (Esther’s daughter), Harry Kalenberg (Mania’s son, Esther’s nephew), Alex Kalenberg (Harry’s son), Simon Steinhardt (Esther’s grandson), Bernice Steinhardt (Esther’s daughter), Rachel Peric (Esther’s granddaughter), a Mniszek farmer and her daughter, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, Mania (Miriam) Kalenberg (Esther’s sister), and Lipa Kalenberg (Mania’s husband).