MEMORIES OF SURVIVAL
By Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt
Published by Art and Remembrance
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In this beautiful 64-page picture book, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz tells her story of survival during the Holocaust through her art and narrative. Acompanying text by her daughter, Bernice Steinhardt, adds historical detail, context and interpretation. While a beautiful gift for both children and adults, it is also an educational resource for teachers exploring the Holocaust and themes of social justice and tolerance.
“While the panels speak of an almost unfathomable loss and horror, they also stand as one woman’s testimony to hope, endurance and the unquenchable passion to bear witness.”
Publishers Weekly (October 10, 2005)
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Review Date: OCTOBER 01, 2005
Gr. 6-9. For many years before her death in 2000, Krinitz told her story of Holocaust survival in a series of 36 exquisite, hand-embroidered fabric collages and hand-stitched narrative captions. In this picture book for older readers, Bernice Steinhardt, Krinitz’s daughter, has reproduced those panels, adding eloquent commentary that fills in the facts and the history. The first panels show Esther, 10, with her loving family in a small Polish village in 1937 before the Nazis come. The soldiers arrive in 1939. When Esther is 15, they take her family away, and she never sees them again. She and her sister survive by hiding in the woods, and then, disguised as Polish Catholic farm girls are taken in by a kind farmer. After the Russians come, Esther sees the death camps. The telling is quiet, and the hand-stitched pictures are incredibly detailed, with depth and color that will make readers look closely, whether at some scene of the communal baking before the war, a line of refugees and prisoners, or a picture of giant cabbages growing on human ashes, in a corner of the death camps. Connect this to Jacqueline Woodson’s Show Way, about the quilts sewn by African American women from slavery times until today.
– Hazel Rockman
Review Date: SEPTEMBER, 2005
For many children of Holocaust survivors, the personal history of their parents’ ordeal is often a brief verbal rendition of an unimaginable time and experience. In one such family, Steinhardt’s mother, Esther, distinctly crafted her brave story through an amazing series of 36 beautifully and delicately embroidered scenes of a Polish girl’s escape. Esther ran from her farm community to a hidden life disguised for over two years as a Catholic farmhand in a neighboring village. She eventually arrived in New York following the end of the war and the loss of her immediate family. She tells her story in very simple words that accompany her artwork, rich in detail and color. Daughter Steinhardt extends the story with her own fleshed-out explanations for each scene and circumstance, highlighting the increasingly difficult environment Jews faced with the impending dangers of Nazi rule. The outstanding design against colored backgrounds that reflect blissful peace through bright hues opposite war, fear and destruction on dark shades of brown, grey and black, is a culmination of an exhibit of the original needlework displayed through Art and Remembrance, a foundation formed by Esther’s daughters. A remarkable achievement and a must for any collection. A star is assigned to books of unusual merit, determined by the editors of Kirkus Reviews.
Review Date: NOVEMBER/DECEMBER, 2005
The Horn Book
Astounding quilted and embroidered illustrations tell the painful and inspiring story of Esther Nisenthal as she stays alive in a time when so many did not. The book begins as a celebration of a child’s idyllic life in pre-WWII central Poland — Esther lived on a farm filled with children, chickens, geese, and family and religious traditions. All was to change for this Jewish family when the Nazis came in 1939. Esther Nisenthal Krinitz’s embroidered pictures are a testament to both her prodigious talent with a needle and thread and her powerful memory. Every picture is a detailed work of art, filled with tiny stitches, miniature knitted and crocheted pieces, and appliquéd fabric. Hand-stitched captions accompany most pieces (the narrative is expanded with commentary by Esther’s daughter Bernice); the colors in the cloth frames reflect the tone of the pictures — bright colors before the Nazi occupation, black during the war, and green for their arrival in America, which represented for Esther the end of persecution. Due to the nature of the story and pictures — including nightshirt-wearing Jews threatened by Nazi guns while Polish neighbors look on, crematoria, and defeated Nazi soldiers hanging from tree branches — this is best suited for children who already know something about the Holocaust. Though the pictures are clearly the foremost element here, Esther’s strong memories and clear storytelling move the heartbreaking tale forward and leave the reader stunned. -Robin Smith
Review Date: OCTOBER 10, 2005
In 1977, at age 50, Krinitz (1927- 2001) began the creation of 36 embroidered fabric panels recalling her experience as a Jewish teenager caught up in the Holocaust. She had no formal artistic training, but drawing on her childhood experience as a dressmaker’s apprentice, she stitched together scenes of homespun beauty and heartbreaking bluntness (the untutored artistry brings to mind a similarly searing work, Toby Fluek’s Memories of My Life in a Polish Village ). Steinhardt, Krinitz’s daughter, here collects the panels and adds commentary that expands on Krinitz’s hand-stitched captions. The early panels capture a happy if hard-working life in the rural Polish village of Mniszek. In one remarkable scene, three girls and a boy are seen from behind as they walk down a path flanked by waving fields of grain, the sisters’ red hair plaited into long, blazing braids. “Shavuot [the Jewish summer harvest festival] 1938,” Krinitz stitched in thread. “My brother and sisters followed as I walked on stilts to our grandparents’ house.” But four years later, Esther and her sister Mania flee a Nazi round-up and assume the identities of Polish Catholic refugees; they are the only members of their family to survive. Krinitz spares her readers little: she sews scenes of “giant cabbages growing on human ashes” at Maidanek concentration camp, and Nazi soldiers hanging from trees in the wake of a Russian victory….[W]hile the panels speak of an almost unfathomable loss and horror, they also stand as one woman’s testimony to hope, endurance and the unquenchable passion to bear witness.
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Review Date: NOVEMBER 2005
School and Library Journal
Krinitz tells the story of her childhood in a small Polish village through a series of hand-stitched embroidered panels and captions. Done in various needlework techniques, different styles of embroidery, and fabric collage, the 34 panels depict with astonishing detail and complexity her childhood home and family before World War II, the Nazi invasion of her village, and the forced labor and death camps. They also show her escape and life in hiding, the end of the war, her visit to the Maidanek concentration camp where her family was likely exterminated, and her journey to America . Commentary by her daughter accompanies each image and provides additional details and background information. Aspects of Jewish culture, rituals, and holidays are prominently featured along with a strong sense of setting and season. The intricate, multifaceted artwork uniquely illustrates the horrors of the Holocaust alongside the natural beauty of Krinitz’s surroundings, and the cherished relationships that she shared with her family. A detailed introduction, table of contents, and afterword are included. -Rachel Kamin, Temple Israel Libraries & Media Center , West Bloomfield , MI