Lest future generations know more about how Jews died than how they lived, Mayer Kirshenblatt has made it his mission to remember the world of his childhood in living color. At once encyclopedic and uncensored, They Called Me Mayer July, a book and exhibition, draws the reader into its universe, as the narrator roams the streets and courtyards of Apt (Opatów in Polish), capturing the details of daily life and the personalities of those who lived and worked there. In images and words, Mayer has created a unique record of Jewish life in a small Polish city before the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of an inquisitive boy.
Mayer was born in 1916. He completed seven grades of Polish public school and apprenticed to an electrician and cobbler in Poland. In 1934, at the age of seventeen, he left for Canada, where he worked in a sweatshop, painted houses and eventually opened his own wallpaper, paint, and floor covering store in Toronto. He retired in 1977. In 1990, at the age of 74, Mayer taught himself to paint. He has been making a visual record of everything he can remember about his hometown ever since. Barbara has been interviewing Mayer since 1967. Our book will be published by the University of California Press in 2007 and a traveling exhibition of Mayer's work is being organized by the Judah L. Magnes Museum.