Portraits of Endurance Bring Holocaust Home

Samuel Spiegel and his wife, Regina Gutman Spiegel, are among the survivors featured, at right, in the exhibit.
Samuel Spiegel and his wife, Regina Gutman Spiegel, are among the survivors featured, at right, in the exhibit. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Cari Shane Parven
Special to the Washington Post
Thursday, April 28, 2005

Beatrice Carasso, her black hair cropped short around her face, looks sadly, a bit uncomfortably, away from the camera.

Henry Greenbaum, fingers clasped, gazes straight into the lens, his ghostly image reflected in the polished mahogany table at which he sits.

Eva Ehrlich, her softly lined face resting in the palm of her hand, stares off in the distance, smiling.

Carasso, of Gaithersburg, Greenbaum, 77, of Bethesda and Ehrlich, 80, of Rockville, are all survivors of the Holocaust. Their photographs and dozens more are part of a "Portraits of Life" exhibit at Montgomery College's Rockville campus. The large, gray photographic panels and the accompanying stories celebrate the lives of 37 local survivors and document part of Montgomery County's history.

"These people who lived with horror are the same people who stand in front of you at the grocery story, or behind you in line at the post office," said Judith W. Gaines, director of the college's Paul Peck Humanities Institute, who conceived the documentary photographic project.

A year and $10,000 later, the project was unveiled last Thursday night during the college's 10th annual Holocaust Commemoration ceremony.

The black-and-white photographs, displayed on 33 panels, "capture, with great intensity, the ability of the human spirit to survive, prosper and rise above hate, but never to forget. These images elevate the spirit," said Brian V. Jones, director of the college's photography department, who helped develop the project.

There are photos of men framed by family pictures; photos of women surrounded by Holocaust survivor awards; photos of old photos, of young daughters hugging mothers whom they never saw again; portraits of girls with their brothers and sisters who were stolen away by the Nazis, then murdered en masse. But more important, there are photos that tell the stories of those who witnessed evil, then turned their backs on it and somehow survived -- becoming our neighbors in Silver Spring, Rockville, Potomac, Bethesda.

"Beatrice Carasso is our [college] librarian. No one knew!" said Jones, who along with colleague Jon Goell took some of the photos and led a team of photographers that included one adjunct professor and six students. "That's what's so amazing. Former students, professors. Some of them are survivors," with stories to tell.

Once the survivors were located, the project moved forward in earnest. Digital and 35 mm cameras were purchased, along with rolls of film and tape recorders. As front doors were opened, so, too, were laptops and lenses. Photographers were welcomed into living rooms, fed and told stories. Goell said he approached the survivors looking for a way to shoot a photograph that would tell their special story.

The "emotions [were] so extreme they defy description," said Jones. "How do you teach students to take pictures of joy and pain?"

It's a lesson the students are still learning.

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