• Steven Heller

Memorial To The Unthinkable

“Though the Lens of Faith” designed by Daniel Libeskind, along with photographer Caryl Englander, and curator Henri Lustiger Thaler of the Amud Aish Memorial Museum, present a new temporary exhibition at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on July 1, 2019 marking the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of the camp in 1945.

A Network of Portraits

The exhibition is composed of 21 color portraits taken by Caryl Englander of Jewish, Polish and Sinti survivors of the camp. The photographs were taken over a course of three years. Daniel Libeskind designed a corridor-like structure adjacent to Auschwitz’s main gate, complete with portraits. Englander selected her subjects from survivor networks associated with the Amud Aish Memorial in Brooklyn.

“She captures her subjects intimately, in their homes, many look directly into the lens—often with their sleeve rolled up to reveal the infamous serial number that was tattooed on prisoners at Auschwitz and the sub-camps—and smiling into the camera,” says a representative for Studio Libeskind.

“Through the Lens of Faith is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. Survivors imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau drew on their most profound beliefs systems in the cruelest place on earth,” said curator Dr. Lustiger Thaler. “Daniel Libeskind’s design captures the past, present and future of survivor experiences and memories in conversation with Caryl Englander’s moving portraits.”

Patterns in Internment

Three-meter-tall, vertical steel panels line up on both sides of a path that veers off the route that leads to the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum. The repetitive pattern of the panels is reminiscent of the stripes from a prisoner’s uniform, suggesting internment, while the exterior mirrored surfaces reflect the surrounding landscape and evoke a physical and spiritual freedom. “We can’t understand the millions that were murdered in the Holocaust, but we can understand one person’s story,” said Libeskind.

Entering the installation, visitors see each portrait framed in a recessed vertical panel, and overlaid with black glass etched with the words of the subject’s first-person experiential account of ordeal. Below is data on the respective families created by survivors after the Holocaust. Each captures the longing for family renewal after the genocide. This is accomplished with visual and personal self-narrations. The installation poses the question: How did a largely religious population maintain their sense of identity and culture in the “Deathworld” of Auschwitz? This place was structured to disarm any form of dignity and resistance.

“My work is a visual testament to the absolute endurance of human courage,” Englander said of her mission. With each person I had the privilege to meet, I felt their resilience, their hope and their The exhibition will be on view  from July 1, 2019 through October 31, 2020 yet hopefully the words and  image the forever on the collective mind.

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