When Gili Yaari was a child having a kickabout with friends, and his father walked past after a long day’s work and patted the top of his head with those giant hands, coarse from the hours spent mending leather goods in a workshop, the sadness that engulfed him wasn’t always apparent because, as a young boy, what Yaari saw was his Dad’s sweet face, his tender gaze.
The fact that his father was a Holocaust survivor wasn’t immediately apparent because he was, after all, a survivor – a provider, a worker, a lover, a Dad. “I grew up in what seemed like a ‘normal’ house. My parents emigrated to Israel from Hungary, and they integrated into society, worked for their living and managed to raise a family. It was only when I grew up that I understood I was actually raised in a house where there was no happiness, where joy was illegitimate, where fear and survival were a driving force,” says the Israeli photojournalist of his upbringing in Beit-Shmesh, a suburb of Jerusalem.
That his father, and his father’s father, managed to negotiate life despite their deeply wounded psyche is perhaps the very thing that inspired Yaari’s Sixty Five Years Later, a series of portraits taken at an Israeli mental health centre for Holocaust survivors. The home cares for 70 frail, aged men and women whose minds lost their battle with life when the unimaginable horror that plagued them eventually became unendurable and engulfed them completely. Yaari’s father died three years ago, and with him died his pain.