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They Called Me Mayer July. Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland before the Holocaust
by Mayer Kirshenblatt
University of California Press,


Intimate, humorous, and refreshingly candid, this extraordinary work is a remarkable record – in both words and images – of Jewish life in a Polish town before World War II as seen through the eyes of an inquisitive boy. Mayer Kirshenblatt, who was born in 1916 and left Poland for Canada in 1934, taught himself to paint at age 73. Since then, he has made it his mission to remember the world of his childhood in living color, "lest future generations know more about how Jews died than how they lived." This volume presents his lively paintings woven together with a marvelous narrative created from interviews that took place over forty years between Mayer and his daughter, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Together, father and daughter draw readers into a lost world – we roam the streets and courtyards of the town of Apt, witness details of daily life, and meet those who lived and worked there: the pregnant hunchback, who stood under the wedding canopy just hours before giving birth; the khayder teacher caught in bed with the drummer's wife; the cobbler's son, who was dressed in white pajamas all his life to fool the angel of death; the corpse that was shaved; and the couple who held a "black wedding" in the cemetery during a cholera epidemic. This moving collaboration – a unique blend of memoir, oral history, and artistic interpretation – is at once a labor of love, a tribute to a distinctive imagination, and a brilliant portrait of life in one Jewish home town.     Copub: The  Judah L. Magnes Museum

This collection of pre-Holocaust memories will be a lasting contribution to our understanding of Eastern European Jewish life and culture before its destruction. – Publishers Weekly

It is best through personal stories that we can grasp the world of our fathers which the Nazis destroyed. Mayer Kirshenblatt has a unique gift for evocation of the past in his simple and beautiful paintings. Each one tells a story. Together they make up a world.  – Jan T. Gross, author of Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland

Mayer Kirshenblatt brings to life the small Polish town of Apt prior to 1934. We see before our eyes the world of Polish Jewry, from the well-dressed kleptomaniac who steals live fish to Kirshenblatt's mother in her kitchen. His paintings are simple, direct, often witty, and always moving. A book to buy, a book to share. – Sander L. Gilman, author of Multiculturalism and the Jews

As if memory itself had come and lifted up his brush, Mayer Kirshenblatt evokes every aspect of his childhood in a tender, beautiful series of paintings. The accompanying narrative mirrors the qualities of his art: a remarkable spontaneity and transparency permits the precious illusion that Apt, Poland, lives again in scenes of birth and death, recreations of kitchens and fire stations and farms, inhabited by a full and lively cast of butchers, milkmaids, prostitutes, musicians, all so lovingly and creatively brought to life. It is a magician's trick, a joyous and deeply satisfying immersion in the lost world of prewar Poland Jewry.  – Ann Kirschner, author of Sala's Gift: My Mother's Holocaust Story

Mayer Kirshenblatt is an artist living and working in Toronto. His work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at The Jewish Museum in New York, Koffler Gallery, and Canadian National Exhibition, as well as in an exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is University Professor and Professor of Performance Studies at New York University. She is the author of Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (UC Press) and Image Before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland Before the Holocaust (with Lucjan Dobroszycki) and co-editor of Art from Start to Finish and The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times.

EXHIBITION DATES:

Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkeley, September 9, 2007 – January 13, 2008

The William Bremen Jewish Heritage Museum, Atlanta, Spring 2009

Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam

Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw, May 8 – September 27, 2009

PURCHASE