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They Called Me Mayer July

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They Called Me Mayer July
Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust. By Mayer Kirshenblatt and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. An S. mark Taper Foundation Book in Jewish Studies. Co-published by the Judah L. Magnes Museum. (University of California Press, Berkeley: 2007. Pg. 424. 196 Color Illustrations & 11 b/w Photographs. 2 Maps.) ISBN 13: 978-0-520-24961-5.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - November 5, 2007

They Called Me Mayer July paints a vivid textual and visual history of Jewish life in the town of Apt (Opatów), Poland before the Holocaust. This book was written by Mayer Kirshenblatt, and his daughter, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, a Professor at New York University.

Mayer Kirshenblatt was born in Apt in 1916, and immigrated to Canada in 1934. After he retired, he began to paint, and has never stopped. His main focus is on recreating images of his childhood in Apt, a Polish town whose Jewish population was decimated during the Holocaust. Each painting in They Called Me Mayer July, has its own story, and its story is told within the pages of this remarkable book.

They Called Me Mayer July contains reproductions of more than 100 of Kirshenblatt's paintings, many of which have been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. The paintings are organized into four main categories, My Town, My Family, My Youth, and My Future. Together the paintings and their accompanying stories created a spirited picture of the vibrant Jewish community that once existed in Apt.

This is a joyful book, one that tells the story of Apt from the viewpoint of a child who is unaware of the dark shadow that looms ahead. As such, this book is filled with a vitality and sense of wonderment. It details the everyday life of the town's Jewish inhabitants, chronicling everything from the local school uniform and weddings to burial rituals and preparing to immigrate to a foreign land. This book serves not only as a monument to this nearly forgotten town, but also as a historical record of life there. As such, it will interest not only general readers, but also those interested in European history, art history, Jewish studies, and cultural studies.

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