Above: Iby Knill BEM by Sian Bonnell HonFRPS
They are portraits infused with hope – the smiles and relaxed appearances offering no hint of what lies behind them.
The pictures showing survivors of the Holocaust, sometimes with their families, are by leading British photographers who are all members or Honorary Fellows of the RPS. The images are part of Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors, an exhibition to be staged at IWM London and RPS Gallery, Bristol.
Featuring more than 50 portraits by 13 photographers, Generations tells of survival in the face of unthinkable horror. An estimated 6 million were killed amid the systematic persecution of Jewish people by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945.
The photographers include Honorary Fellows Sian Bonnell, Jillian Edelstein and Anna Fox, as well as Frederic Aranda FRPS and the RPS Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge.
Here, Bonnell and Carolyn Mendelsohn describe the experience of photographing Holocaust survivors – and we share a gallery of portraits from the exhibition.
The photographer Sian Bonnell HonFRPS
“I feel honoured to be involved in this project – it has been a real privilege to meet the four survivors I photographed. They taught me so much in the short time I was with them.
“I was struck by their calmness and an intangible something else – a feeling of acceptance, that I found quite overwhelming. I have not stopped thinking about it ever since. I realise now that intangible something was forgiveness in action. Their message that each of them is compelled to pass on to generations has never been more relevant or important.”
The survivor Iby Knill BEM (pictured above)
Iby Knill BEM was born in Bratislava in 1923. In 1942, Iby fled to Hungary to escape the Nazi occupation but was later deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On arrival, she was ‘selected’ for forced labour. At the end of the war the camp was evacuated by the Germans and the prisoners forced on a death march. Anyone who couldn’t keep up was shot. Iby struggled to walk due to an infection but her friends carried her. They were liberated on Easter Sunday 1945. Iby married her husband Bert in 1946 and settled in Leeds in 1947.
The photographer Carolyn Mendelsohn
“Meeting Rosl and Lesley was a wonderful and emotional experience for me. They are both so warm and generous and have an incredibly sharp sense of humour despite all that’s happened in Rosl’s life. She offers her family such a positive and forward-thinking attitude. I found her a real inspiration.”
The survivor Rosl Schatzberger
Rosl Schatzberger, 96, was born in Vienna in 1925. She and her family left Vienna and escaped to Prague in 1939, having been made homeless by the Nazis. Securing permits to work in the UK as domestic servants, they made the journey that was to save the family. After setting up home in Royston they moved to Manchester. Rosl now lives outside York.
Photographed with her daughter Lesley, a clarinettist, Rosl is seen holding a portrait of her mother-in-law Ida Schatzberger, nee Lewinter. Ida, a pianist married to Maximilian Schatzberger, was killed in Auschwitz. Ida and Max saved the life of Rosl’s future husband, Wolfgang (Marc), by sending him to the UK on the Kindertransport. Marc passed away in January 2021.
Uri Winterstein BEM by Jillian Edelstein HonFRPS
Uri Winterstein wears the Yellow Star his father was forced to display during the Second World War in Bratislava, Slovakia. He discovered the star after his parents had died.
Ben Helfgott MBE by Frederic Aranda FRPS
Born in 1929 in Poland, Ben Helfgott MBE is a former champion weightlifter and one of two Jewish athletes known to have competed in the Olympics after surviving the Holocaust. After the war he was brought to the UK by the RAF as one of the initial 300 ‘Windermere Children’. There, he raised a large family and devoted his life to Holocaust education.
Saul Erner by Sian Bonnell HonFRPS
Saul Erner, 86, pictured here with his granddaughters, travelled to the UK with his mother and sisters at the age of five when Germany invaded Belgium. His father was killed by the Gestapo.
Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors is at IWM London, 6 August 2021 to 7 January 2022, and RPS Gallery, Bristol, from January 2022. See more of the exhibition in the July/August 2021 issue of the RPS Journal.
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