In The Picture: Holocaust Survivors, Remembrance And The Antidote For Hatred

Photos by Giovana Schluter
Text by Karen Schwartz

The human cruelty of the Holocaust is almost too much to comprehend. Couple that with the now frequent image of swastikas appearing on buildings and playgrounds, the more than 100 bomb threats that were called into Jewish community centers and the vandalism that occurred in Jewish cemeteries this past year, the question emerges: How do survivors bear it? One way is through hatred’s antidote: community.

Selfhelp Community Services, which operates the oldest and largest program serving Holocaust survivors in North America, fosters this fellowship by, among other things, arranging monthly lunches where groups of New York City survivors socialize. The camaraderie was clear at a recent Holocaust Remembrance Day lunch in Brooklyn, which featured a program of readings, conviviality and song.

Later, in a room to the side, attendees posed for portraits by photographer Giovana Schluter and answered the question: “What would you most want people today to know or understand from your experience?”

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“We lived in a little town, and my father was a rabbi. We were eight children. They came and took him, and they cut off his beard. We never saw him again. The next morning they took us to the ghetto, my mother and the eight children. And after four weeks, they took us to the stone factory. Then they had an order, people with a lot of children, they have to go first. They took us to cattle cars — no toilet, no food, nothing. We were traveling for a whole week, and we were going to Auschwitz. And somehow what happened — maybe they didn’t have room in the crematorium — they didn’t have place for this transport and then it went back to Austria. And that was our luck.” —Paula Weiss. Photo by Giovana Schluter
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“I keep repeating this: people should know that hatred and silence led to murder. ‘Never again’ will only be good if there is no silence. We can’t be silent.  Now our loved ones, our millions of loved ones, live only through us, and we must make sure they are never forgotten.” —Sonia Klein. Photo by Giovana Schluter
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“I was in the ghetto in Romania three years. From 1941 in June to the liberation August 23, 1944. I went home, the house was empty. We didn’t have [food] to eat and it was terrible. To survive the war, yes, was hard… but many people forget that after was still very difficult.”   —Adele Schreiber (translated to English).  Photo by Giovana Schluter
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“…But I don’t know how you could make the world to believe. It’s very, very difficult. Because even the people who lived there couldn’t believe you could just take people and throw them in the crematories and gas chambers.” —Iditha Avishai. Photo by Giovana Schluter
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“I want people to realize that we went through a lot in the Holocaust, and it was a lot of hatred.  I wish that there should be peace. People should get along with each other. And for future generations, they should know what happened.” —Ruth Sokol. Photo by Giovana Schluter


Giovana Schluter is a portrait and documentary photographer, based in the South Bronx, in New York City.

Karen Schwartz is a writer and a contributing editor to Marie Claire magazine.

Copyright © 500 Pens. May 2017.