Media Resource

Art and Remembrance: Using Art to Teach the Holocaust and Combat Hate

Colorful tapestry of village homes, family, farming animals
Photo caption

“My childhood home in the village of Mniszek, near the city of Rachow (today Annapol), Poland. I am carrying water up the hill to our house; my sister, Mania, waits for me. My brother Ruven is standing with the wagon. My father and my sister, Chana, are in front of the house, along with my mother, who holds my youngest sister, Leah.”

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, 1977

Art and Remembrance

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz was 15 in 1942 when Nazis ordered the Jews of her Polish village to report to a nearby train station. She chose to flee with her 13-year-old sister, never to see the rest of her family again.

Decades later, determined to show her daughters the family she had lost, Esther created a series of 36 exquisite works of fabric collage and embroidery—a legacy of love, grief and the sheer force of memory. Inspired by Esther's story, Art and Remembrance uses art and personal narrative to recognize individual courage and resilience, and to foster understanding and compassion for those who experience injustice.

The lessons from Esther’s art and story are immediate and understandable, nurturing empathy and courage, while her art brings the Holocaust to life in a markedly different way than the black-and-white photos more typical of the period. Drawing from Esther’s art and story, free educational materials offer students a way to comprehend the perseverance of a young girl within the context of historical events, using the Holocaust as the primary content.

Colorful tapestry depicts large group of people walking along road, houses and farmland on either side
Photo caption

“October 15, 1942. After being abandoned by a neighbor whom my mother had paid to take us to Dombrowa, Mania and I met our cousin Dina, on her way to Krasnik with her baby and the other Rachow Jews. As the road began to curve around the mountain, I realized how close we were to Krasnik and I was suddenly terrified. I pleaded with Mania to come with me to Stefan. She finally agreed after Dina told her, ‘Go Mania, go with Esther.'"

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, 1994

Art and Remembrance

The Life of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz
Black and white photograph of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz
Photo caption

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz in 1949. Photo taken for her Green Card, officially called an Alien Registration Receipt Card.

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, born on February 8, 1927, in the peaceful village of Mniszek in Central Poland, lived a life that spanned tumultuous times and resilient triumphs. Before the upheaval of World War II, Esther had a poor but happy childhood in a farming community surrounded by both Jewish and Christian neighbors. Her father, Hersh, traded horses, while her mother, Rachel raised chickens and geese for sale at the local marketplace. Esther, the second of five siblings, attended the village school, took Hebrew lessons with a local rabbi, and was apprenticed to a local dressmaker at the age of 9.

The tranquility shattered when German soldiers occupied the village in 1939, subjecting Esther's once peaceful childhood to three years of terror. In 1942, at 15, the Germans ordered all Jews to leave their homes and report to a nearby train station. Esther, displaying extraordinary courage, chose to separate from her family, taking her younger sister Mania with her. This decision marked the last time she saw her family. Turned away by fearful friends and neighbors, the sisters, pretending to be Polish Catholic farm girls, sought refuge in a nearby village where they were not known until liberating Russian troops arrived in 1944.

Map uses images of colorful tapestries to depict locations on Annolopo/Rachow District, Poland
Photo caption

The white line represents the Jews' journey to the Krasnik train station. The surrounding places were part of Esther Niselthal Krinitz''s journey and are featured in her art.  

After the war concluded in 1945, Esther reunited with Mania, and they journeyed to Germany, eventually settling in a Displaced Persons camp. It was there that both sisters met the men they would marry. In November 1946, Esther married Max Krinitz in a ceremony conducted at the camp. The following year, pregnant with their first child, Esther joined Max in Belgium, where he worked in coal mines. After contacting a cousin in the United States, Max arranged for sponsorship, and in June 1949, Esther, Max, and their daughter arrived in New York. 

Colorful tapestry depicts four people with suitcases looking at the Statue of Liberty surrounded by white birds
Photo caption

“Coming to America, June 10, 1949. We arrived in New York. Max’s cousin Clara came aboard the ship to greet us. As our daughter Brasia slept in her father’s arms, Clara said to her, ‘My dear child, this will be your America!'”

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, 1996

Art and Remembrance

Esther, now a mother of two daughters, shared stories of her childhood and war experiences. Despite no formal art training, she embarked on a unique artistic journey in 1977, creating fabric pictures depicting her childhood home and family. Her embroidered pieces, though initially unplanned, were so well-received that she continued crafting another 34 pieces, forming a sequential narrative series of increasing complexity. Adding text, Esther transformed her art into an exquisite embroidered testimony of her survival. 

In June 1999, exactly 50 years after leaving Europe, Esther returned to her village with her immediate family. The landscape, now more impoverished, bore few signs of its former vitality. Despite the absence of Jews, Esther reconnected with friends and neighbors from her childhood. Tragically, upon her return from Poland, Esther fell seriously ill, passing away in 2001 at the age of 74. Her legacy endures through her art, a testament to a life marked by resilience, survival, and the indomitable spirit of a Holocaust survivor. 

Suggested Activities

Fabric of Survival: An Interactive Gallery

This collection of short videos narrated by Esther's daughter, Bernice Steinhardt, guides students through a visual tour of Esther's fabric artworks. Use the videos and conversation starters to encourage reflection on narrative and artistic elements in the artworks, The interactive gallery can also prompt students to consider broad contextual themes and elicit personal responses to questions of values and choices throughout Esther's story. 


Through the Eye of the Needle: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz

This thirty-minute documentary film, supported by the Maryland Humanities Council, features a 1997 interview with Esther, as well as testimony from her daughters to tell the story of Esther's life and art. Art and Remembrance offers a discussion guide and scavenger hunt to use alongside this award-winning film. You can watch a three-minute preview here:


Classroom-Ready Lesson Plans

Art and Remembrance offers a collection of interactive classroom and community lessons. Designed for grades 5–12, these lessons build essential skills for critical thinking, understanding primary resources, contextualizing current events, appreciating the importance of storytelling, and engaging young people in active participation in their community. The following samples will be of particular interest to teachers of history, social studies, civics, and more.   

  • WWII in Poland – Enrich student learning about the history of Poland and Jews in -Poland before, during and after World War II through the use of timelines. 

  • Esther in Her Own Words and Images – Teach how to use first person accounts, primary and secondary sources and artifacts while following Esther’s journey and exploring the Holocaust. 

  • Children Escaping War and Conflict – Students learn to analyze basic human needs, draw similarities between survival stories, and apply their learning to current and contemporary events. 

Related Resources

Using Art as a Primary source to Teach About the Holocaust

This video is part of the Holocaust Education Video Toolbox from Yad Vashem. "Teaching the Holocaust Using Art" offers an introduction to effective classroom strategies for incorporating artwork and highlights the work of three Jewish artists from the period. 


Using Testimony and Primary Sources to Teach About the Holocaust

Survivor testimony is a compelling tool for emotional engagement, connecting students to history. This collection features Holocaust survivors' personal accounts, sourced from the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. The site also offers a variety of classroom activities and information on professional development opportunities. 


Introducing the History of Antisemitism

Antisemitism, prejudice against or hatred of Jews, has a long history and persists today. Consider the following resources to help students understand the origins of antisemitism and recognize its occurrence in history and in the world around them. 

NEH Connections

The National Endowment for the Humanities has supported numerous projects exploring Jewish history, preserving stories of Jewish life, and celebrating Jewish culture. Among these are several that might be useful in your classroom. 

Judaism in America 
This episode of the NEH-funded podcast BackStory explores the history of Judaism in America, featuring stories about George Washington’s visit to a Rhode Island Jewish community, the Cincinnati Jewish leaders who popularized Hanukkah celebrations in the U.S., and the rise in anti-Semitism that accompanied the highly publicized 1913 murder trial and subsequent lynching of Jewish American factory superintendent Leo Frank. 

Walter Winchell: The Power of Gossip 
Award winning writer, producer, and director Ben Loeterman used an NEH media projects production grant to develop Walter Winchell: The Power of Gossip. The film, which premiered in 2020, introduces audiences to the notorious newspaper columnist, radio commentator and television personality. The film includes portions on Winchell’s Jewish identity and how he used his broadcasts to expose and attack Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s. Stream the film now on PBS.

GI JEWS: Jewish Americans in World War II 
The 2018 NEH-funded documentary GI JEWS: Jewish Americans in World War II tells the profound and unique story of the 550,000 Jewish men and women who served in World War II. These brave men and women fought for their nation and their people, for America and for Jews worldwide. Like all Americans, they fought against fascism, but they also waged a more personal fight—to save their brethren in Europe. 

Mission US: City of Immigrants 
One of the most innovative ways for students to learn about the Jewish American experience of the early years of the 20th century is through Mission US 4: City of Immigrants, where players navigate New York’s Lower East Side as Lena, a young Jewish immigrant from Russia. Trying to save money to bring her parents to America, she works long hours in a factory for little money and gets caught up in the growing labor movement.