Iconic portraits of Jewish refugees and descendants mark Refugee Week
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Iconic portraits of Jewish refugees and descendants mark Refugee Week

Striking images from award-winning photographer Jillian Edelstein to be projected onto Tate and Southbank

Esther Freud, Zoe Wanamaker, Judith Kerr, Alf Dubs.  Credit: Jillian Edelstein
Esther Freud, Zoe Wanamaker, Judith Kerr, Alf Dubs. Credit: Jillian Edelstein

To mark Refugee Week this week, images of first and second generation Jews will be projected inside and onto some of London’s most iconic buildings.

The photos include a senior politician, an award-winning actress, an acclaimed children’s author and a peer of the realm, shot by world famous photographer Jillian Edelstein, who was born in South Africa but lives in north-west London.

It is a subject close to Edelstein’s heart – at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015-16, she travelled to Lesvos and Calais, capturing the experience of those fleeing war, conflict, drought and the rise of radical Islam.

This week her latest portfolio of work titled ‘You, Me and Those Who Came Before’ is presented on screen at Tate Exchange until 25 May. From 17-23 June it will appear at the V&A entrance and projected onto the side of the Southbank Centre.

Commissioned by Counterpoint Arts, the result is a stunning series of portraits featuring first and second generation ‘refugees’, many public figures who we would not commonly associate with displacement.

Among them are a poet from a Somali family, an actor from a Rwandan family, an author from an Iranian family and a chef from a Palestinian family, as well as the following from Jewish families:

Actress Zoë Wanamaker was three when her Jewish left-wing family fled to Britain from a United States in the grip of McCarthyism. Her father Sam went on to found Shakespeare’s Globe theatre while Zoe starred on stage and screen.

Zoe Wanamaker. Credit: Jillian Edelstein

Lord Alf Dubs, born in Prague, came to Britain as a child, one of 10,000 Jewish children to travel on the Kindertransport. In recent years he has led the push for the UK Government to do more to alleviate the refugee crisis in Europe.

Lord Alf Dubs. Credit: Jillian Edelstein

Esther Freud, whose artist father Lucien and psychoanalyst grandfather Sigmund both fled to the UK before the war, is a best-selling novelist whose debut novel, Hideous Kinky, was made into a film starring Kate Winslet.

Esther Freud. Credit: Jillian Edelstein

Writer and illustrator Judith Kerr, who passed away this week. Her family similarly fled Germany in 1933, just before the Nazis took power. Her theatre critic father opposed Nazi policies and his books were burned after he left. Judith went on to create children’s picture books including the Mog series, ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea,’ and semi-autobiographical ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.’

Judith Kerr. Credit: Jillian Edelstein

Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s Marxist sociologist father Ralph likewise fled the Nazi occupation of Europe, leaving Belgium in 1940. Ralph’s mother and sister survived after being hidden by Polish priests. His family’s experience informs David’s values today, as head of the International Rescue Committee.

David Miliband. Credit: Jillian Edelstein

A side of Edelstein’s own Jewish family has only recently been charted. In her new book ‘Here and There,’ published by Unbound, she discovers an unknown branch of her family living in Ukraine.

For Edelstein, who grew up in apartheid South Africa, the sense of inequality within the wider family is heightened, because one branch managed to escape the Soviet Union, and another “quite literally missed the boat”.

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