How the smile of a 99-year-old Holocaust survivor inspired a German photographer
Austrian Parliament to display a photo of Holocaust survivor and his granddaughter to mark this year's Holocaust Memorial Day; the survivor went through 9 different concentration camps, lost his parents and all six siblings.
The photograph, which was captured by German photographer Helena Schätzle, 33, is part of a portrait series, called Devoted to Life, depicting Holocaust survivors in Israel. Schätzle’s photo of Feinzilberg, selected from among 16,000 submissions, won the international Alfred Fried Photography Award in September 2016. The photo is now on display for one year at the Austrian Parliament.
Feinzilberg, who is 99, was born in Lodz, Poland, and went through nine different concentration camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, losing six siblings and his parents.
“It was both a very overwhelming and inspiring experience for me,” said Schätzle of the photography project in an interview with Tazpit Press Service. “I spent many months accompanying survivors of the Holocaust and their families in Israel thanks to the organization AMCHA who connected me with the survivors,” she explained. “I connected immediately to Elias. After surviving all these death camps and marches, and losing his family, Elias’s smile and positive spirit amazed me.”
Schatzle, whose grandfather was a Wehrmacht soldier, said that ever since she was a young girl, she was interested in learning how the Holocaust could happen. “I’d question my grandparents when I was little – why didn’t my grandfather hide himself in the cupboard when the army came to take him? Why do people kill each other?”
When she was studying visual communications in university in Germany, as a final project, Schätzle set out to find some answers to her questions. She interviewed witnesses of war in nine different countries across Eastern Europe where her grandfather had been stationed as a Wehrmacht soldier. It was during this time that Schatzle first came into contact with Holocaust survivors.
AMCHA Germany took notice of Schätzle’s final project when it was on display in Berlin, and representatives asked her if she would be able to create a similar body of work on Holocaust survivors living in Israel.
Subsequently, Schätzle spent six months in Israel on four different visits, connecting with Holocaust survivors and hearing their stories between 2014-2015.
“I met Elias for the first time at AMCHA Jerusalem. He had this unbelievable energy around him, spreading complete happiness while dancing and singing with everyone at the club. I was very impressed by his joy for life,” said Schätzle.
AMCHA is the Israeli center for psychosocial support of Holocaust survivors and the second generation, with mental health and social support services available across the country.
Schätzle says that the time she spent with the survivors was one of the most significant learning experiences of her life. “Listening to these horrifying stories of human cruelty was difficult to cope with. But I received so much love from all the survivors and their families. They showed me warmth and hospitality, letting me become a part of their families,” said Schätzle, whose photos of the Holocaust survivors have recently been published in a book, called Devoted to Life and can be bought through AMCHA.
“I’m still in touch with the survivors in Israel. We Skype and talk on the phone. They have become so close to me that I cannot imagine my life without them,” she told TPS.
“I’m so happy that Elias’s humanity and his story of peace is able to reach more and more people around the world. Every single day of this year, parliamentarians in Austria see Elias’s photo and remember what their duty is – to provide freedom and justice so that something like the Holocaust will never be repeated anywhere.”
Reprinted with permission from the Tazpit News Agency .