Daily Picture Show

Portraits Of Holocaust Survivors

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    Alice Herz-Sommer, 108, "has the distinction of being not only the oldest Terezin survivor but also holds the title of the oldest Holocaust survivor in the world. Deported to Terezin with her husband and young son, the 21-year-old accomplished pianist gave music lessons to the children of the camp and played more than 100 concerts for inmates during her internment at Terezin."
    Dennis Darling
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    Felix Kolmer, born in 1922, at his apartment, Prague, June 2009. "Several months before he was transported ... he had asked to be assigned to the evening Terezin gravedigging detail instead of his usual carpentry job. ... He was allowed to dig the common grave that would hold the remains of his mother, who died the previous day. However, he was not allowed to attend the burial."
    Dennis Darling
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    Jacky Young (Jona Jakob Spiegel), born in 1941, at his duplex, London, February 2012. "He is perhaps the youngest person to have been deported to Terezin without being accompanied at least by one parent. His personal research shows that he was a mere 3 1/2 weeks old when he arrived at the camp. ... [He] remembers nothing about his parents, country of origin or his stay as a newborn at Terezin."
    Dennis Darling
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    Panl Elserova at the Kolin Synagogue, Czech Republic, July 2012. According to Dennis Darling, Elserova "is last remaining Jewish women living in the town."
    Dennis Darling
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    Zdenka Erlich, born in 1921, in her apartment on the same floor of the building where the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich was planned by British and Czech military forces, London, February 2012
    Dennis Darling
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    Zdenka Erlich wrote a book about her story. The Tin Ring: How I Cheated Death tells of how her boyfriend gave her a ring before they were separated at Terezin. She never saw him again, but the hope of seeing him kept her alive.
    Dennis Darling
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    Pan Kodicek at his apartment, Kolin, Czech Republic, July 2012
    Dennis Darling
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    Katharina Fuchs at her house, London, February 2012
    Dennis Darling
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    Eva Beldova Stichcova at her apartment, Prague, July 2012
    Dennis Darling

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At age 108, Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest known living Holocaust survivor. Today she lives in London, but she was born in Prague in 1903 to a musical Jewish family.

Herz-Sommer was already an accomplished pianist by the time she was deported to Terezin, the concentration camp, in her early 20s.

Terezin (or Theresienstadt), in what is now northern Czech Republic, was a unique place. It served as a transit camp for western Jews en route to other camps like Auschwitz — but was also the temporary "home" to some of the most notable artists and cultural leaders from Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe.

Conditions were harsh, and only a small percentage survived. For many people like Herz-Sommer, art was the ticket to life. She would practice for hours and perform recitals for inmates. But those performances were also effectively used as propaganda when visitors like the Red Cross came through the camp: Especially at Terezin, Nazis exploited artists to give a false impression of civility to the outside world.

Toman Brod, born in 1929, in a World War II vintage rail building ... from where he was deported, Prague, June 2012. i i

Toman Brod, born in 1929, in a World War II vintage rail building ... from where he was deported, Prague, June 2012. Dennis Darling hide caption

itoggle caption Dennis Darling
Toman Brod, born in 1929, in a World War II vintage rail building ... from where he was deported, Prague, June 2012.

Toman Brod, born in 1929, in a World War II vintage rail building ... from where he was deported, Prague, June 2012.

Dennis Darling

Survivors like Herz-Sommer were an exception — and therefore the people Dennis Darling wants to photograph. In a text introduction to his documentary project, which he is calling Families Gone to Ash, he writes:

"There are lessons to be learned from these people and compelling reasons to document as much as possible before the last living memory becomes irretrievable. ... This act of recording living history about to vanish has shaped much of my career as a photographer and has fueled a lifelong interest in history."

The most devoted readers will remember the name Dennis Darling. A few months back, we featured some of the work he had been sending via email installments. Since then, the photography professor has stayed in touch about this ongoing project documenting Terezin survivors, mostly in Prague.

"Reliable estimates place the number of Terezin survivors that are still alive at about 400," Darling writes. "I have now photographed the oldest among them and, in all probability, the youngest."

Andula Lorencova, born in 1927, in her apartment with her original yellow star, Prague, June 2012. While her father was "trying to procure official Chinese approval for his family to join him, Andula along with her brother and mother were deported to Terezin." i i

Andula Lorencova, born in 1927, in her apartment with her original yellow star, Prague, June 2012. While her father was "trying to procure official Chinese approval for his family to join him, Andula along with her brother and mother were deported to Terezin." Dennis Darling hide caption

itoggle caption Dennis Darling
Andula Lorencova, born in 1927, in her apartment with her original yellow star, Prague, June 2012. While her father was "trying to procure official Chinese approval for his family to join him, Andula along with her brother and mother were deported to Terezin."

Andula Lorencova, born in 1927, in her apartment with her original yellow star, Prague, June 2012. While her father was "trying to procure official Chinese approval for his family to join him, Andula along with her brother and mother were deported to Terezin."

Dennis Darling

Oddly, one of Darling's first projects as a graduate student was photographing the American Nazi Party around Chicago. "I have now come full circle without ever knowing it," he says. The subject is close to his heart; Darling's father was a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.

"What I just recently realized was that the camera for me has been a sort of divining rod," Darling says, "pointing and then connecting me with my personal past without me even being aware of the process."

The photos and captions tell the story. And they will be exhibited at the Texas Performing Arts center this fall.

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