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They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories Of A Jewish Childhood Before The Holocaust

         Most memoirs written by former Jewish citizens of Poland talk in detail of the Shoah, such as the book I wrote about last week, The Zoo Keeper’s Wife. But as I have said many times in the past, “The Jewish history in Poland consisted of nearly a thousand and not just the six years of the Shoah.”

 

 




Picking Up the Shabbat Chulent From The Baker, p.210.


 

 

         They Called Me Mayer July, is a memoir of Jewish life in Poland, by Mayer Kirshenblatt, born in Apt in 1916, who left Poland at the age of 18 in 1934, before the German invasion and the start of the Shoah. Memories of his early years are very vivid, full of colorful characters, places and events. There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words and Mr. Kirshenblatt uses his skill in painting to tell the story of a way of life that has all but disappeared.

 

 



Yom Kippur Eve in front of the synagogue of Apt, p.54.


 

 

        Though the events depicted in the paintings took place more then 70 years ago, the memories were kept in Mr. Kirshenblatt mind as he only started to paint them at the age of 73 at the urging of his daughter and co-author Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Each of the paintings is accompanied by a story, the memory from which the painting sprouted.

 

 



The Hunchback’s Wedding, p.274.


 

 

         There is the story of the hunchback’s wedding, the kleptomaniac, birth and death, religious and secular events all of which made up the life of Jews in Pre-War Poland. Mr. Kirshenblatt also added a few paintings of events that occurred during the Holocaust as told to him by survivors of Apt. “You cannot talk about Jewish life in Poland, Mr. Kirshenblatt said, “without mentioning the final sad chapter.”

 

 



The Tombstone Carver, p.153.


 

 

         Mr. Kirshenblatt has been traveling the world with his book and paintings. I first met him at the last Krakow Jewish Festival, explaining his mission to show future generations how the Jews lived in Poland “lest they learn more about how they died, than how they lived.” An exhibit of his paintings is planned for the Jewish Museum in N.Y. for 2009.


 

 



In The Sukkah, p. 244.

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September 1, 1939 is the date on which Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII. While it should be said that the start of the war was not the start of the Shoah, which actually began with the rise of Nazism in 1933, it was a major milestone in the annals of the Holocaust. Within the first few days of the war, Germany had conquered and/or bombed much of Poland, including the capital, Warsaw.

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In September 1939 the Germans started establishing ghettos in the occupied territory of Poland. Ghettos played an important role in the Jewish extermination policy. They were filled with Polish and Western European Jewish deportees. The ghettos differed in times of existence, size, internal organization, and living conditions. The Germans called them ” death boxes” (Todeskiste). The city of Lodz belonged to the Wartheland District and the Germans changed its name into Litzmannstadt.

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Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

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