In 1942, 15-year-old Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and her family were Jews living in Poland. When the Nazis ordered all Jewish residents in her town to report to the local train depot, she and her 13-year-old sister fled, hiding out in the countryside for two years. They never saw the rest of their family again.
Starting in 1977, Esther began creating tapestries to illustrate those two years on the run. With no formal training in art, she made the 36 panels just for her two daughters. But her daughters believed the strong, vivid images and folk art realism needed to be seen by a wider audience, and created a nonprofit organization to allow a traveling exhibition of the tapestries.
From Sept. 7 through Nov. 30, Esther’s tapestries will be displayed in the Old Gallery of the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science in an exhibit called “Through the Eye of the Needle: Fabric of Survival.” Mary Bower, the museum’s interim director, says this is something the museum has wanted to do for many years.
“We really hope that by looking at one woman’s story and her struggle, it will teach people and they will be become more empathetic, aware, and tolerant of others in the community,” says Bower.
The museum exhibit was of immediate interest to Carol Abrams, chairperson of the Committee to Promote Respect in Schools (CYPRESS), who thought it could become the centerpiece of a citywide educational and cultural program.
“People have to know what mankind is capable of, and what they did,” says Abrams. “In a worldwide survey (from the Wall Street Journal), 66 percent of people in the world either do not know anything about the Holocaust or they deny that it happened. It was the worst of mankind, but there are heroic stories.”
Titled “Evansville Remembers the Holocaust and World War II,” the program is a cooperative effort between the museum, Evansville Vanderburgh Public School Corp., Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, Public Education Foundation, Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana, Temple Adath B’nai Israel, University of Evansville, University of Southern Indiana, and others.
Abrams says when she approached those groups and asked them to participate, they were eager to sign up.
“Everybody got it, and they wanted to be on board,” says Abrams. “It is wonderful, because some of these people have never met. We just started making calls, and everybody said yes. It is a network we hope very much will continue, and it should.”
For more information on “Through the Eye of the Needle: Fabric of Survival,” visit emuseum.org.