Visu­al Arts


Aliza Auer­bach; Alan Clay­man, trans.
  • Review
By – July 17, 2013

This book, an album of pho­tographs of Holo­caust sur­vivors from sev­en­teen coun­tries, is the third vol­ume of a tril­o­gy by famed pho­tog­ra­ph­er Aliza Auer­bach. The first two, Ris­hon­im (Pio­neers) and Olim (New Immi­grants; Eng­lish edi­tion enti­tled Aliyah) were fol­lowed by this work — pub­lished in Hebrew as Nit­solim in 2009. Auer­bach sets out the para­me­ters in her per­son­al pref­ace: she lim­its her sub­jects to sur­vivors who built their lives in Israel and cre­ates an atmos­phere to the nar­ra­tives by pho­tograph­ing train tracks in the snow — stark images tak­en in Jerusalem but recall­ing the infa­mous Nazi trains tak­ing vic­tims to the death camps.

Her sub­jects write their own sto­ries — albeit very brief sum­maries of the hor­rors they endured dur­ing the war and the sub­se­quent rebuild­ing of their lives in Israel. For some, the suf­fer­ing began in 1938, for oth­ers in 1943, but the destruc­tion to their fam­i­lies was total in every case. This vol­ume is a trib­ute to the human spir­it that can be reha­bil­i­tat­ed in spite of extreme tribulation.

Auer­bach chose to pho­to­graph the sur­vivors in black and white head shots which have a pow­er­ful, almost sculp­tur­al effect. The por­traits are placed oppo­site their per­son­al sto­ries. Turn the page and one sees a burst of col­or in a two-page pho­to­graph of their fam­i­lies. Includ­ed are pho­tographs of per­son­al objects from before or dur­ing the war and may be as sim­ple as a an embroi­dered chal­lah cov­er, a lemon (thrown at the train to relieve the stench of the over­crowd­ing — and some­how pre­served like an ancient fos­sil), or a tea set (returned after the war). Uri Orlev, not­ed Israeli writer of nov­els and children’s books, saved a lock of his ill mother’s hair cut off in a ghet­to hos­pi­tal short­ly before she was killed and kept it in a play­ing card envelope.

The fam­i­ly pho­tographs pro­vide the upbeat notes to this book whose nar­ra­tives could be cumu­la­tive­ly depress­ing if not for the hap­py faces in these pho­tographs. Third and fourth gen­er­a­tions — infants to mid­dle aged chil­dren of the sur­vivors — are pho­tographed in infor­mal set­tings, con­vey­ing the mes­sage of ulti­mate vic­to­ry over the Nazi geno­ci­dal intent. The pic­ture of Shu­lamit Catane, sur­vivor from France, hold­ing her 140th great grand­child attests to that. She arranges large fam­i­ly get-togeth­ers twice a year and at the con­clu­sion of her per­son­al tes­ti­mo­ny writes that she has 205 great-grandchildren.

This vol­ume is a worth­while addi­tion to Holo­caust per­son­al tes­ti­monies — it cov­ers the expe­ri­ence of many dif­fer­ent coun­tries and does so with the sen­si­tive images of a gift­ed pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Illustrated.

View pho­tographs here.

Aaron Ritzen­berg is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in the Depart­ment of Eng­lish and Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture at Bran­deis University.

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