Over 50 portraits showcase the histories and legacies of Holocaust survivors

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The Imperial War Museum’s latest exhibition, featuring over 50 newly commissioned portraits, is a testament to the perseverance of a people who endured the unimaginable

Sigi Ciffer, born in Hungary, was the only person in his family to survive the Holocaust. Iby Knill, born in Czechoslovakia, didn’t speak about her time in Auschwitz for 50 years, not even with her children. Renate Collins, born in Prague, lost 65 members of her family in the Holocaust. Today, she wears one ring from her mother and one from her grandmother: both smuggled out of camps in loaves of bread.

Each individual is depicted in the Imperial War Museum’s (IWM) current exhibition, which features over 50 portraits of Holocaust survivors, often surrounded by their families or in the new homes they built for themselves. The images are not only a testament to the resilience of each individual, who made their way to the UK after enduring unimaginable evil, but also to the communities they have built in the 76 years since the end of the Holocaust.

Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors showcases work from 13 Royal Photographic Society (RPS) fellows:  Frederic Aranda, Sian Bonnell, Jillian Edelstein, Arthur Edwards, Anna Fox, Joy Gregory, Jane Hilton, Tom Hunter, Karen Knorr, Carolyn Mendelsohn, Simon Roberts, Michelle Sank and Hannah Starkey. And, the show includes images by RPS patron, HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, whose work was specially commissioned.  “The portraits seek to simultaneously inspire audiences to consider their own responsibility to remember and to share the stories of those who endured persecution,” said curator Tracy Marshall-Grant, in a statement provided by the museum.

Frederic Aranda’s portrait of Freddie Knoller BEM is lively and joyful. The image, taken in Knoller’s home on the celebration of his 100th birthday, captures his family across three generations, all alight with smiles. In the photo, Knoller plays the cello, while strung above him are large, silver balloons, shiny in the sun’s reflection: “FREDDIE,” they read, like a declaration of life.  

Other images focus on the survivors as individuals: their relics and histories. Jillian Edelstein’s portrait of John Hajdu is dark and muted. Hajdu holds up a teddy bear – a memento from his childhood, which he spent in the Budapest ghetto – while his face remains in the shadows. Hajdu is dressed in black and set against a dark grey backdrop; only the teddy bear is spotlighted. The childhood toy, innocent and heart-breaking, reminds viewers what the Jewish community has lost and what the rest of the world must strive to remember.

Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors, created in partnership with the Royal Photographic Society, Jewish News, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and Dangoor Education, is on display at the Imperial War Museum, from 06 August until 07 January 2022.

Nurit Chinn

Nurit Chinn is a playwright and freelance journalist. A recent graduate of Yale University with a degree in English Literature, Nurit has published work in Wallpaper* Magazine, Off Assignment, and the Yale Daily News.