Painted Memories: A Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust
A Public Talk by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

Date: Wednesday 23 October 2019
Time: 2-4pm
Place: WG404 (AUT)

To register:*

This moving collaboration between father and daughter is at once a labor of love, a tribute to a distinctive imagination, and a brilliant portrait of life in one Jewish home town. Mayer Kirshenblatt, born in Opatów (Apt in Yiddish) in 1916, left a remarkable record in both words and images of Jewish life in Poland before the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of an inquisitive boy. He left Poland for Canada in 1934 and taught himself to paint at age 73. Since then, he 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.”

His daughter, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, will present his lively paintings woven together with his stories, based on interviews that she recorded with him for more than forty years, Together, father and daughter recover a lost world – 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 kheyder 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.

The lecture will be followed by a short film about Mayer’s return to his home town, Opatów, and how the town received him.

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is University Professor Emerita and Professor Emerita of Performance Studies at New York University and Chief Curator of the Core Exhibition at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Her books include Image before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939 (with Lucjan Dobroszycki); They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust (with Mayer Kirshenblatt), winner of two book awards, The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times (with Jonathan Karp), and Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory (with Jeffrey Shandler), among others.

She was honored for lifetime achievement by the Foundation for Jewish Culture, received the Mlotek Prize for Yiddish and Yiddish Culture, honorary doctorates from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, University of Haifa, and Indiana University, and the 2015 Marshall Sklare Award for her contribution to the social scientific study of Jewry. She was decorated with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for her contribution to POLIN Museum.

She was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She serves on Advisory Boards for the Council of American Jewish Museums, Jewish Museum Vienna, Jewish Museum Berlin, and the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow. She also advises on museum and exhibition projects in Lithuania, Israel, France, Albania, and New York.

Hosted by: Te Ara Poutama, Faculty of Maori and Indigenous Development, AUT
Contact: Sharon Mazer, Te Ara Poutama (

*Read more about Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and her thoughts on museums here.

She will also be delivering a lecture on “Curating between Hope and Despair: Creating POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews” at the University of Waikato in Hamilton on Saturday October 19 from 11:00–12:00PM. []