Portraits in Black and White: Survivors and What They Carry arrives in DC just in time for the annual Days of Remembrance.
From Monday, May 2 through Friday, May 6, the Russell Senate Rotunda hosts Portraits in Black and White: Survivors and What They Carry—an exhibit of 20 portraits of Holocaust survivors—in commemoration of the annual Days of Remembrance. The collection of images, taken by renowned photographer Barbara Mack and on loan from the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, are the culmination of Mack’s seven-year collaboration with survivors. In anticipation of the exhibit, we caught up with Mack to learn more.
What inspired you initially to take this series of portraits? Barbara Mack: As I was photographing the survivors, I was inspired by thoughts of my great-grandmother. My Hebrew name, Toba, was given to me by my parents in memory of my paternal great-grandmother, Toba Macklowitz, who, with the other Jews of Mielic, Poland, was taken to the countryside, shot, and buried in a mass grave. I wanted to complete this project for her, for my grandfather who adored his mother, and for all of the victims of the Holocaust.
Was there anything that stood out to you as you were collaborating with these survivors? BM: Before I began this project, I thought it would be a depressing endeavor. I discovered that although the experience was at times quite sad, the survivors’ stories also included examples of the goodness and kindness in themselves and in others. I enjoyed working with the survivors and found them to be inspiring and charming.
Many of the survivors are photographed with an object. BM: I asked each survivor to bring an object from the past or present that had meaning to him or her. Not everyone brought something, but many did. I thought that the objects would add interest to the portraits and make these different from other portraits of Holocaust survivors.
Why bring this exhibit to DC? BM: I think it's wonderful that the United States Senate is exhibiting these portraits in the Russell Rotunda. It is a beautiful historic space, which complements the exhibit. This is also a story of immigrants who survived the horrors of Hitler and lost most—or all—of their family and friends. They came to the U.S. and made new lives for themselves. As a group, they love this country. One day, I was at one of their meetings where an entertainer was playing the piano and singing Yiddish songs. When he began to sing the final song, “God Bless America,” they stood up, put their hands over their hearts, and with tears in their eyes, sang “God Bless America” and meant it!
Here’s an inside look at the riveting exhibit.
Portraits in Black and White: Survivors and What They Carry will conclude its Washington visit with a performance by the Argus Quartet on Friday, May 6 at 12:15 p.m.