Photos courtesy of Nicole Glass/German Information Center
On April 10 I attended the opening ceremony for Lest We Forget, a photo exhibition of Holocaust survivors at the Reflecting Pool by the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.
Luigi Toscano’s photos are big—88 by 60 inches—yet feel much larger. They are extreme close ups of the faces of survivors, a landscape of wrinkles, with eyes looking forward, focused and foggy, mouths both tight and relaxed, their minds present or elsewhere. I wondered what they were thinking.
Sixty photos lined each side of the Reflecting Pool, which is over a third of a mile long. You can see the Washington Monument in the distance, feel Lincoln at your back.
Made possible in partnership with the Embassy of Germany and the United States Holocaust Museum, remarks would be made by Germany’s Ambassador Peter Wittig, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum director Sarah Bloomfield, Washington Hebrew Congregation Senior Rabbi Lustig, a survivor and the photographer Luigi Toscano, whose first visit to Auschwitz at the age of 17 changed the course of his life.
All of this I knew to expect, but I was not prepared for the enormous and lasting impact the day would have on me.
On this very chilly and windy day, under the first clear, blue sky Washington, DC had seen in weeks, as I listened to the message of Never Again, the enormity of the Holocaust overwhelmed me. And yet, with each photo I felt an intimate connection with the subject. I scanned their face, looked into their eyes, and knew there were no words for the pain and suffering and loss they endured.
On Sundays I often go to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to volunteer, and I sit with a survivor who is 101 years old. When people ask her, “What is your story?” she quickly responds, “There is no story. A story is something you read in a book. This is my life.”