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What the “Fabric of Survival” Teaches

By Nina Edelman,
Exhibit Chair, Fabric of Survival

Fabric of Survival: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz will be on display from February 17 to May 26, 2017. Nina Edelman will be facilitating a panel discussion on Thursday, March 2 exploring diverse cultural textile traditions.

One does not have to be a textile artist or even a hobby sewer to be in awe of the artistry in fabric and thread of the 36 hauntingly beautiful quilts by Holocaust survivor Esther Nisenthal Krinitz. I first encountered them when the extraordinary picture book Memories of Survival came to my attention as a librarian a dozen years ago. It is a treasure not only of lush textile landscapes and dazzling embroidery by a non-artist, but as a family document of tragedy and loss, and as a confirming survivor testimony of Nazi terror. I purchased the book for the MJDS library, and for myself.  It has had a privileged spot on my bedside bookshelf, and in my psyche as a quilter all these years.

Story quilts and other storytelling textiles are not new. They have been made world over throughout history.  This collection has pointed significance for us in 2017, though. It again reminds us it is our obligation, as Esther knew, to pass on the stories of our parents and grandparents to our children and their children in any way we can.

Never Forget.

These scenes and accompanying text nag at us. Why the Jews? What power do we have over evil? How do we defend ourselves against irrational governments? How do we protect our most vulnerable citizens? What does it mean to be a refugee? And what responsibilities do we have for those being persecuted?

Fabric has been my playmate from the time I was a young girl delighting in colorful discarded hems from my seamstress grandmother, to collecting fabric samples from around the world at flea markets, to teaching quilting and embroidery, and to immersing myself in quilt subculture. My interest in Jewish genealogy has led to recent trips in Poland and Ukraine to explore the life of my ancestor’s towns, in the general area of Esther’s village. How could I not be excited by the Fabric of Survival exhibit? It has been a privilege to be involved with it.  Thank you Jewish Museum Milwaukee for bringing it to us.