NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As Holocaust survivors age and die, their children pick up the torch of remembrance.
Photographer Yuri Dojc and filmmaker Katya Krausova, both born to Holocaust survivors after the war, traveled from their respective homes in Toronto and London, to their parents’ native country, Slovakia, to document what was left of a once vibrant Jewish community.
The photographs from those trips, seen first in the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava, form the exhibit “Last Folio” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, which will run until August 9.
Born of filial duty and journalistic interest, the artists’ trip developed into one of compelling discovery and intimacy.
“It became an artistic journey, a philosophical journey, an emotional journey, a journey of cultural memory,” Krausova told Reuters.
Neither artist intended to search for family.
“I was just following a photographer,” Krausova added.
Yet serendipity was their constant companion.
During a visit with Holocaust survivor Katka Grunstein in the town of Hodonin. Grunstein recounted the death march from Auschwitz where she had spent three years.
When Germany collapsed and her captors abandoned their prisoners and disappeared, Grunstein and a girlfriend joined two men, whom they had heard speaking Slovak, and walked for nearly two weeks to Lubeck, in Germany, to find the Red Cross.
The details of the story electrified Krausova; one of the men was Martin Kraus, her father.
“Last Folio” includes expressive portraits of aging survivors taken between 1997 and 2004, showing the unadorned, but dignified remnants of a community that now exists almost entirely in memory and artifacts.
But the most striking photographs are of artifacts: books, prayer books, and Torah scrolls (religious texts written on parchment).
Dojc and Krausova first saw some of the items in March 2006 in a former Jewish school in Bardejov, a town in northeastern Slovakia. The warden of the local Protestant Church and his wife maintained the classrooms in the school where Hebrew books with decaying spines and crumbling pages lined bookshelves.
Krausova said the books mesmerized them, seeming to ask for their owners. Bardejov’s 3,700 Jews were deported to concentration camps in 1942.
“This miraculous school made it seem as if time had stood still,” Dojc said. “I fell in love with those books. I came back to photograph them about six times.”
On a return visit in September 2008, this time to the town of Michalovce where another repository of books had been located, Krausova was intrigued by the names stamped in the books, indicating their owners.
One book was stamped with the name Jakub Deutsche (Dojc in Slovak.) Krausova walked to the next room where Dojc was taking pictures and asked, “What was the name of your grandfather?”
“Jakub,” he replied.
“And what did he do?”
“He was a tailor ... in Michalovce,” he said.
The book belonged to Dojc’s grandfather, of whom he had seen only a single photo.
“We had finished our project, completed our journey,” Krausova said.