Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Roman Vishniac - Photographer (1897-1990)

This artist is new to me. I say artist instead of photographer to call attention to the way he framed his shots.  Born in Russia he moved to Berlin in 1920 to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism in his native country.  Maybe it wasn't the best of choices but had he not relocated when he did the world would have been cheated out of one of the best collections of photographs chronicling Jewish life in Germany before the Holocaust.

His 1983 book “A Vanished World” gave us only a glimpse of his vast collection of images. But now; through the International Center of Photography, the entity to which these images belong; all of his thousands of photos have been digitized and are available for viewing on line.

The importance of this project cannot be overstated. Millions of Jews were wiped out by the Nazi’s; and along with them all of the personal effects and photographs of a generation disappeared. But for the work of photographers such as Vishniac there would be no record of those lives left at all; which was the aim of the Holocaust in the first place. You could say that without these photographs Hitler would have scored a partial victory of sorts.

This collection encompasses all aspects of life in Germany before the Second World War; not just Jews. But that is the very beauty of the whole collection. The Jews pictured here are represented as having been a part of something larger than being Jews in Germany. They are shown as being an integral part of German culture.

Among the images of Rabbis and traditionally clad Jewish children there are pictures of the Nuns, the churches, the train station, the zoo; and just about everything else which together form a more clear picture of what life was like in the multi-cultural environment which was Germany before the Holocaust. It all looks so normal.

And that’s the point; abnormal horrors are often born quietly amidst the normalcy of daily living. We are often lulled into a state of apathy and unawareness, enjoying our lives without giving thought to the evils which lurk just beneath the surface.

These photos were digitized by Ardon Bar-Hama who was the man tasked with preserving the Dead Sea Scrolls in a like manner. But these photos; the importance of the Scrolls notwithstanding;  may be more relevant to our daily lives.

For more of these amazing photos go to the Roman Vishniac exhibition at;

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