Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Slaughter of the Innocents I: Execution at Szydlowiec, 1942, June 1997
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 36 in.
Collection of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Max Gimblett, New York.
Photographed by Tom Warren, with the assistance of Anthony Fodero.
"I found out how my father's family perished from a letter sent to my father right after the war by someone who had witnessed the atrocities. I was there when my father got the news. My father immediately started shaking from the shock and never stopped until the day he died. I don't know if he had a stroke, but from this time on, he suffered from Parkinson's. I have painted this picture on the basis of that letter. I could not figure out how to paint this scene until I visited the Prado Museum in Madrid and saw Goya's paintings of the executions during the Napoleonic war.
My father came from a family of eleven children. He and two brothers were in Canada. His parents, three brothers, and five sisters, with their husbands and children, were still in Poland. My grandmother was a powerful woman. She hoped that by holding the family together, they could help each other. That was unfortunate. Had they scattered, perhaps some would have survived. The whole family was interned in a ghetto called Szydlów. This is where Jews from the Radom district were kept.
In the fall (I think it was in 1942), the chief of the ghetto noticed a big influx of young men. They caught a young lad and tortured him until he revealed that many youths had been hiding out with the partisans in the forest all summer. In the fall, when the Christian boys returned to their villages, the Jewish boys, having nowhere else to go, returned to the ghetto. They could not remain in the forest during the winter because it was too difficult to find food and too easy to find them by their tracks in the snow. They had no choice but to come back to the ghetto. They didn't know what was awaiting them. That lad informed on my father's family. Having discovered that my uncles had been hiding out with the partisans, the Germans took the whole family out to a nearby field. They lashed my grandmother to a tree and, before her very eyes, they shot her entire family. Then they shot her. That's how my father's family was exterminated."
Mayer talks about the fate of his father's family in Europe. Listen to it.