A Story of Survival: Meet Esther
In September 1939, 12-year-old, Esther watched German soldiers arrive in her village of Mniszek. For the next 3 years, German troops used Jewish slave laborers from Mniszek and the nearby city of Rachow (today called Annopol) to build roads and bridges for their Eastern campaign. Once the Nazis moved to implement the “Final Solution” however, the Jews of Rachow and Mniszek were instructed to leave their homes and report to the train station in the city of Krasnik.
Esther was by then 15, the second in a family of 5 children, and the oldest girl. The night before their departure, Esther decided she would not go with them. On October 15,1942, her father, Hersh; her mother, Rachel; her older brother, Reuven; and her little sisters, Chana and Leah, set off for the train station. It was the last time Esther saw her family.
Esther and her 13-year-old sister, Mania, headed for the house of Stefan, a Polish farmer who was a friend of her father’s, hoping he would take them in and give them work. But after sheltering them for a couple of days, Stefan told them that the rest of the village knew where they were and the Gestapo would soon come looking for them.
Esther then decided that they would have to assume the identities of Polish Catholic farm girls and make their way to another village where they were not known. There, they would say that they had come from a town across the Vistula River, where their family, like others in the region, had lost its farm to a German family. With their digging tools in sacks across their shoulders, they would ask for work.
They eventually came to the village of Grabowka, where Esther found work with a farmer whose wife was ill and bedridden. Mania became a housekeeper for the village’s sheriff. Until 1944, Esther and Mania cooked, cleaned, cared for animals, helped in the fields, went to church, and lived out the daily lives of two Polish farm girls.
The white line represents the Jews' journey to the Krasnik train station. The surrounding places were part of Esther's journey and are featured in her art.
In 1944, Russian troops arrived and liberated the village. Esther returned to Mniszek to find out what had happened to her family. Unable to find them, Esther decided to join the Polish Army, then making its way west with the Red Army to Warsaw and ultimately to Germany.
After the war ended in 1945, Esther returned to Grabowka to get Mania and in 1946, the two of them returned to Germany, making their way to a Displaced Persons camp in the favored American zone, in the city of Ziegenhein. Esther met Max Krinitz there and, in November 1946, married him in a ceremony conducted in the camp.
The following year, pregnant with their first child, Esther joined Max in Belgium, where he had gone to work in the coal mines. While in Belgium, he contacted a cousin who lived in the United States and she agreed to arrange for sponsorship of his immigration. In June 1949, Esther, Max and their daughter Bernice arrived in New York.
Mania (left) and Esther, 1945
Esther, Max, and Bernice, 1948
Unlike many Holocaust survivors, Esther always talked about her experiences during the war. But in 1977, when she was 50 years old, Esther decided that she wanted her daughters to see what her home and family looked like. Although she had no artistic training, she was an accomplished seamstress, having been apprenticed to a dressmaker as a child. On a large piece of fabric, she drew the outlines of her house, and then filled the rest of the picture with stitches. She then made a second picture, the view from the other side of the road. She gave both pictures to her daughters. Ten years later, Esther returned to these memory pictures, adding stitched captions to create a narrative. She continued to work on them without pause, creating a series of 36 pictures before she died in 2001 at the age of 74. View Esther's body of 36 tapestries.
In 1999, Esther returned to Poland for the first time since the war, to show her daughters and grandchildren the places they had seen only in her pictures.
Pictured, left to right: Harold Nisenthal (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).
A Legacy of Inspiration: About Art & Remembrance
Art and Remembrance, an arts and educational non-profit based in Maryland, was founded in 2003 to bring the work and story of Holocaust survivor and fabric artist Esther Nisenthal Krinitz to a wider audience; to maximize the educational potential of her art and her unique story; and to promote the use of art and personal memoir as tools for promoting healing and awareness. As Esther’s daughters, founders Bernice Steinhardt and Helene McQuade grew up with the stories of their mother’s courage and suffering as a child during the war. Years later, after Esther began to turn her stories into a narrated series of fabric art pictures, they realized the incredible power of their mother’s art and story. Together, they could help people understand not only what war and intolerance are, but also how it feels to those who endure them.
Esther Krinitz’s artwork has now been exhibited in more than 40 museums and other institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, including Poland, where it has been seen by several hundred thousand visitors. Art and Remembrance published an award-winning book, Memories of Survival, that has been translated into Japanese and Korean; close to 20,000 copies have been sold around the world.
In 2011, Art and Remembrance produced a multiple-award-winning 30-minute documentary, “Through the Eye of the Needle: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz,” that continues to be screened across the country and abroad, including on public television stations in the U.S. Since its posting on social media, the film has drawn close to 100,000 viewers.
Among its other projects, Art and Remembrance utilizes the film as a prompt for reflection, discussion, and story sharing through art – primarily working with immigrants and others who have suffered injustice – through its Stitching Our Stories workshops. Most recently, Art and Remembrance designed a set of lesson plans for students aged 10-18, linking Esther’s Holocaust survival story to contemporary issues of racism, anti-semitism, and xenophobia.
Bernice Steinhardt, President and ChairpersonUntil her retirement from federal service, Bernice Steinhardt was a senior executive at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative and analytic arm of the U. S. Congress. Over the course of two decades, she directed the GAO’s work on environmental, energy, and public health programs, as well as government-wide management issues, testifying numerous times before the Congress. For several years, she was also responsible for leading GAO’s strategic planning. Her work led to major improvements in the effectiveness of federal policies and programs as well as savings for taxpayers, for which she received a number of awards. Since 2003, when she and her sister, Helene McQuade, founded Art and Remembrance, she has also worked tirelessly to share her mother’s art and story, and inspiration, with wider audiences. She is the co-author (with her mother, posthumously) of “Memories of Survival,” and Executive Producer of the award-winning film, “Through the Eye of the Needle: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz.”
Helene McQuade, Vice President and Vice ChairpersonHelene McQuade, the younger of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz’s two daughters, was born in Brooklyn, New York, where her parents emigrated after World War II. Encouraged by her mother to draw, paint and play the flute as a child, Helene developed a lasting love for art and music. A graduate of the City College of New York with a bachelor’s degree in Art History, her early career was in the arts and publishing. During the 1970s and 1980s, she was assistant to artist Dan Flavin. Now residing with her husband in the Hudson Valley of New York, Helene recently retired from her position as a development officer for the not-for-profit Foundation for Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, NY. Valuing the importance of community service, Helene has volunteered as a member of the Pine Plains School District Board of Education, the Pine Plains Zoning Commission, and the Pine Plains Free Library.
Benita Kline, TreasurerBenita Kline is Co-Founder and Vice President of Leventhal/Kline Management Inc., a comprehensive management service for family, independent and corporate foundations located in the San Francisco Bay Area. At LKM, she directs client foundations’ activities in grantmaking, strategic planning, board development, evaluation and community relations. She also provides consultative services to foundations on strategic planning, program development, and succession planning. Prior to forming LKM, Benita served as Director of Planning and Allocations for the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay. Previously, she was the Development Director of the United Jewish Community Centers of San Francisco, Marin and the Peninsula. She is a Past President of the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay and has served on the Board of Directors of the Jewish Community Federation of the East Bay and the Alameda County FEMA Board. She is a recipient of the “Menches in the Trenches” Award of the American Jewish Congress for outstanding community service. She holds an MS in Organizational Psychology from San Francisco State University.
Rachel Peric, SecretaryRachel Peric (nee Steinhardt, formerly Glass) is Executive Director of Welcoming America, an organization devoted to promoting mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans. She was previously Executive Director of the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy in Montgomery County, Maryland. The granddaughter of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, she is a founding board member of Art and Remembrance, and has been actively involved in the operations of A&R, including developing educational materials to accompany the works of her grandmother. Ms. Peric holds a BA in International Studies from Johns Hopkins University and a Masters in Public Management from the University of Maryland.
Peggie Hartwell, Board MemberPeggie Hartwell is a nationally-known fourth-generation African-American quilter, teacher, and lecturer. She currently lives in Summerville, South Carolina, where she is Chairperson of the Summerville Chapter of the Women of Color Quilters Network and Voices On Cloth. She is also a member of the American Quilt Society. Her education includes a B.A. in Theater from Queens College, Queens, New York and a Certificate of Completion: Artists in Classrooms, Developing Strategies for Working with Students with Disabilities from S.C. School for the Deaf and Blind, Spartanburg, South Carolina. She was a recipient of the 2017 Jean Laney Folk Heritage Award and is on the Roster as a Master Artist for Opus Inc., Hartford, Connecticut and also on the Roster as Artist in the Classroom for the State of South Carolina. In 1996, she received a grant from the National Quilting Association, Inc. to create a ten quilt series that recorded her South Carolina childhood and farm experiences. Her work can be found at the Museum of Arts and Design (New York City), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (Grand Island, Nebraska), International Quilt Study Center & Museum (Lincoln, Nebraska), the Michigan State University Museum and the Smithsonian Institution American Art Museum. Her work as an inspirational teacher is documented in the film The Quilted Conscience – a Nebraska Story, where she guided a group of 16 Sudanese girls, all refugees living in Grand Island, Nebraska, to create a quilt made up of their hopes and dreams.
Cecile Lipworth, Board MemberCecile Lipworth is the Founder of Ripple Catalyst Studio. She grew up in South Africa and has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for 20 years. She is a passionate change-maker, recognized as a leader and catalyst in movement building, supporting social change on a global scale. Prior to founding Ripple, she worked for 15 years at V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls founded by Eve Ensler (playwright of The Vagina Monologues). Cecile now consults for various social justice organizations based in New Mexico and around the world bringing her expertise in movement building, event planning, communications, and fundraising to their strategic plans. She is also the founder and co-host of Brave Space, a weekly radio show that is opening up dialogue about feminist-centric issues in Northern New Mexico and beyond. In 2016 Cecile was the producer of Art and Remembrance’s program Stitching Our Stories – Santa Fe.
Simon Steinhardt, Board MemberSimon Steinhardt, a grandson of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, is an editorial strategist and the co-author of Hidden in Plain Sight (HarperCollins). He is the former managing editor of Swindle magazine, and has written for numerous other magazines; edited and co-written several art and culture books, including Shepard Fairey’s Supply and Demand; written copy for a wide range of ad campaigns and websites; and developed social media and editorial content for marketing agencies Studio Number One and JESS3. Simon holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Maryland. He lives in Los Angeles.
Priscilla Totten, Board MemberPriscilla Totten works in communications for the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C., where she writes press releases, talking points, op-eds and media plans to further the organization’s initiatives on such issues as pro bono service, expanding legal services for veterans and delivering legal services to homeless youth, among others. She previously worked as an editor at USA Today, senior editor at USA Weekend Magazine, managing editor at FamilyFun Magazine and special projects manager at U.S. News & World Report. She holds a BA in American Studies from Georgetown University and lives in Alexandria, Va. An experienced quilter, she also served on the board of directors of the Skating Club of Northern Virginia from 2007-17, the last three as president of the club.
In MemoriamRonni Denes met Esther when she was 12 years old. She began her career as a classroom teacher and spent the rest of her professional life working to provide educational opportunities for young people, particularly those underserved. As a founding Board member, Ronni contributed her considerable expertise in the non-profit and education sectors to support our strategic planning and governance. But most of all, she brought her love of Esther to the heart of our organization. Like Ronni, Doris Freedman was a beloved friend of Esther and her family for many years. A founding member of the Art and Remembrance board, Doris was a strong supporter of its educational mission and contributed generously to its expansion. In her professional life, Doris spent many years as a government attorney advocating for small business; she brought this sense of public service to her service on our Board as well. But she too, like Ronni, brought with her an undying love for Esther and a determination to bring Esther’s art and story to young people.