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The power of images

Following the opening of the Portraits of Holocaust Survivors exhibition at the Imperial War Museum London, Olivia Marks-Woldman of HMDT reflects on the importance of remembrance

  • Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London, Lambeth Road.  © IWM
    Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London, Lambeth Road. © IWM
  • Holocaust survivors John Hajdu MBE, Joan Salter MBE and Martin Stern MBE visit the exhibition at IWM London. © IWM  - Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors.
    Holocaust survivors John Hajdu MBE, Joan Salter MBE and Martin Stern MBE visit the exhibition at IWM London. © IWM - Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors.
  • Joan Salter MBE sits alongside her portrait by Frederic Aranda, exhibited at IWM London as part of Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors.© IWM
    Joan Salter MBE sits alongside her portrait by Frederic Aranda, exhibited at IWM London as part of Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors.© IWM
  • John Hajdu MBE, whose portrait features in the exhibition, explores Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors. © IWM
    John Hajdu MBE, whose portrait features in the exhibition, explores Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors. © IWM
  • © IWM (1571)
A visitor explores Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
    © IWM (1571) A visitor explores Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
  • © IWM (1471)
A visitor explores Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
    © IWM (1471) A visitor explores Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
  • Visitors explore Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London. © IWM
    Visitors explore Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London. © IWM
  • © IWM (1048)
A visitor looks at portraits taken by Jillian Edelstein for Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
    © IWM (1048) A visitor looks at portraits taken by Jillian Edelstein for Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
  • © IWM (0882)
Visitors explore Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
    © IWM (0882) Visitors explore Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
  • © IWM (0855)
Visitors look at Tom Hunter’s portrait of Sigi Ciffer, exhibited as part of Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
    © IWM (0855) Visitors look at Tom Hunter’s portrait of Sigi Ciffer, exhibited as part of Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London.
  • Visitors explore Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London. © IWM
    Visitors explore Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London. © IWM

Walking through room after room, faces look back at me. Smiling, welcoming, challenging, staring, loving – each expression differs and presents me with emotions.

Each portrait is of a Holocaust survivor, many with family members, many with precious objects.

And each will be viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom will know little about this terrible period of recent history.

The Holocaust was a fundamentally destructive and dehumanising time.

People’s identities were taken away and replaced with offensive labels. In death camps, names – replaced with numbers.


Visitors explore Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM London. © IWM

But art is, of course, an essentially creative endeavour. And what started with two portraits of Holocaust survivors taken by the Duchess of Cambridge in 2020, became a full exhibition, with over 50 portraits displayed at IWM London.

To honour survivors in this timeless portrayal is an act of creation and of affirmation.

These photographs are filled with individuality. It’s profoundly meaningful: those who were once targeted for murder for who they were – are today celebrated in these immortal portrayals.


John Hajdu MBE, whose portrait features in the exhibition, explores Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors. © IWM

Many survivors are pictured with their families – their lives and unbroken chain of generations, surely, miracles. At the heart of this project lies something extremely important: the value of humanity.

The digital age we live in is a visual age. Images shape our understanding of the world events and the way we interact with each other. And the power of images in storytelling has never been more profound.

My hope is that one day, when future generations look at these portraits, they will remember the lessons from the darkest chapter of our history. Our world still feels fragile and vulnerable. We see people around the world persecuted and murdered for who they are. Closer to home, we know that there are still individuals and communities in the UK living in hardship because of their identity.

We cannot be complacent and must guard against the dangers of prejudice and division every day. These portraits will be part of our national commitment to value each human life.


Joan Salter MBE sits alongside her portrait by Frederic Aranda, exhibited at IWM London as part of Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors.© IWM

 

Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE is the Chief Executive of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

  • In partnership with Jewish News, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Royal Photographic Society, Imperial War Museums and Dangoor Education. Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors exhibition will be is at the Imperial War Museum London 6 August 2021 – 7 January 2022.

 

 

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