Visu­al Arts

Invit­ed to Life: Find­ing Hope after the Holocaust

  • Review
By – January 23, 2023

No mat­ter how it might seem,” writes B. A. Van Sise, this is not a book about the Holo­caust.” Rather, it is about a num­ber of sur­vivors who emerged from the deep­est depths of the Shoah and accept­ed their invi­ta­tion to life. In nine­ty hand­some and sen­si­tive por­traits, all set against a black back­ground, Van Sise, an award-win­ning pho­to­jour­nal­ist, cap­tures the glow in his sub­jects’ faces. They are vibrant women and men whose ambi­tion and grat­i­tude take cen­ter stage in the inter­views that accom­pa­ny each photograph.

The nine­ty peo­ple Van Sise presents are engaged in almost every aspect of Amer­i­can life. Some are famil­iar names who have made notable careers, while oth­ers fol­lowed the trades of their Euro­pean fam­i­lies as bak­ers or tai­lors. There are rab­bis and non­be­liev­ers, social work­ers and doc­tors, accoun­tants and work­ers who fell into bad times; there are activists, teach­ers, and engi­neers. Sev­er­al have turned to the arts, some pro­fes­sion­al­ly and oth­ers for pure plea­sure. Almost all tell their sto­ry mat­ter-of-fact­ly, even as they recall their dev­as­tat­ing begin­nings, the dis­tances they have trav­eled, and the lives they have remade. 

What began five years ago as an arti­cle for a local news­pa­per became, once the news­pa­per had fold­ed, a year-long exhib­it of thir­ty pho­tos at the Muse­um of Jew­ish Her­itage. But dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, Van Sise was rest­less, and he remem­bered the resilience of the men and women he had met. He returned to the project, seek­ing out more sur­vivors, and iden­ti­fy­ing in their sto­ries lessons for our unset­tled time.

With brief con­tri­bu­tions by Dr. May­im Bia­lik, Neil Gaiman, and Sab­ri­na Orah Mark, Invit­ed toLife is a com­pelling and mem­o­rable por­trait that tes­ti­fies to the strength and endurance of the human spirit.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions