It was an ambitious idea. More than 50 portraits were to be made of Holocaust survivors by members or Honorary Fellows of the Royal Photographic Society. Many of the survivors were photographed during spring 2021 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The result is the exhibition Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors, opening at RPS Gallery on 27 January 2022 – Holocaust Memorial Day – following a high-profile launch at IMW London in August 2021.
The survivors had all rebuilt their lives in defiance of the Nazi regime that exterminated six million Jewish people between 1933 and 1945.
Some of the survivors were photographed with loved ones – new generations entrusted with their stories of devastation and hope. Others held objects that signified their history, such as the passport created for Ruth Sands, who was smuggled as an infant to France from an annexed Austria.
Besides the portrait of Ruth by Jillian Edelstein HonFRPS, we bring you three others, created during unforgettable meetings between survivors and photographers.
Tomi Komoly BEM
by Sian Bonnell HonFRPS (above)
Born in 1936 in Budapest, Hungary, Tomi Komoly and his mother were forced into hiding after the German army took control of the city in 1944. The city was liberated by the advancing Soviet army in January 1945.
In 1956 Tomi came to the UK on a university scholarship, and later qualified as an engineer. He married Gill and the couple had two daughters.
He was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in 2020 for his work as a volunteer for services to Holocaust education and awareness. As a volunteer with the Holocaust Educational Trust since 2016, he has spoken to thousands of schoolchildren about his experiences during the occupation.
Susan Pollack MBE
by Frederic Aranda FRPS
Born in 1930 in Felsögöd, Hungary, Susan Pollack was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 with her mother and brother, where they were separated from one another.
Susan was sent to Guben in Germany to work as a slave labourer in an armaments factory. As the allied forces advanced, she was forced with her fellow prisoners on a death march to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The camp was liberated by the British army on 15 April 1945.
After being hospitalised for tuberculosis, typhoid and malnutrition, Susan was sent to Sweden to recover. She later moved to Canada, where she met and married a fellow survivor. The couple settled in London, and had three children and six grandchildren.
Susan and her brother were the only members of their family to have survived the Holocaust, during which more than 50 of their relatives had been killed.
She is photographed by Frederic Aranda FRPS with her granddaughter Emily.
by Jillian Edelstein HonFRPS
Ruth Sands, formerly Buchholz, was born in Vienna in 1938. Smuggled to France by the British missionary Elsie Tilney in July 1939, Ruth spent her early childhood being hidden in various parts of France. She was finally reunited with both her parents in Paris at the end of the war.
Ruth came to the UK from France after falling in love with an Englishman, and worked as an antiquarian book dealer. She has two sons, two daughters-in-law and five grandchildren.
She is photographed by Jillian Edelstein HonFRPS with the passport used for her perilous journey from Vienna to France. The document is inscribed in German with the words: “The owner of this passport cannot write.”
Eve Kanner-Kugler BEM
by Jane Hilton HonFRPS
Eve Kanner-Kugler was born in 1931 in Halle an der Saale, Germany. In October 1938, the Nazis arrested her grandfather, who was later killed.
On Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, they returned for her father, Sal, imprisoning him in Buchenwald Concentration Camp. They destroyed his business, burned the synagogue her grandfather had built, and two months later evicted the family from their home. In June 1939 Eve, along with her mother, Mia, and sisters, Ruth and Lea, managed to get to Paris on forged visas.
After World War II broke out in 1939, Mia placed her daughters in homes run by the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), which cared for displaced Jewish children. After living under Nazi occupation, Eve and Ruth were chosen in 1941 to join a Kindertransport on a hazardous two-month journey to the United States.
In New York, Eve lived in three different foster homes, at times separated from Ruth. In 1946, after years of separation, the family – including Sal and Mia, who had survived in camps, and Lea who had been hidden – were finally reunited in New York. Eve recounts her family's traumatic history in a book, Shattered Crystals, published in 1997.
In this portrait by Jane Hilton HonFRPS, Eve is pictured with her cousins, twins Eliana and Kadya Rubin, 10, and Talia Rubin, six.
Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors is at RPS Gallery, Bristol, 27 January-27 March 2022.
The RPS Journal is available exclusively to members. Join us to receive our award-winning magazine and read more inspiring features. Explore full member benefits here
More In Focus stories you’ll love