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'Face of the Ghetto' Exhibition Continues Through June 28 at Perry Library

From now until June 28, members of the campus community and the general public have an opportunity to view 50 enlarged photographic prints from a period of world history that some might prefer to forget. But as the speakers at the opening reception for the exhibition in the Perry Library Learning Commons, "The Face of the Ghetto," pointed out May 16, we need to be reminded of what happened under Nazi Germany.

Vice Provost Chandra de Silva told those in the audience, "This is something we can learn from to build a better world."

During World War II, the German Nazis established the second largest ghetto for Jews in the occupied Polish city of £ódŸ, renamed Litzmannstadt by the German occupants. In April 1940, more than 160,000 Jews from the Warthegau region were crowded into the Litzmannstadt Ghetto, which consisted of an area of 4.14 square kilometers. Later on, 20,000 Jews from the German Reich, Prague and Luxembourg were deported to Litzmannstadt. More than 5,000 Roma also were incarcerated there in 1941.

As a result of the abominable conditions, more than 43,000 people died in the Litzmannstadt Ghetto. In 1942, tens of thousands of Jews with thousands of children among them were deported and killed in the Kulmhof extermination camp. The ghetto was dissolved in August 1944, and all save a handful of remaining inhabitants were killed in the Auschwitz extermination camp.

Professional Jewish photographers were instructed by the Jewish council of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto to photograph the daily life and work. They took pictures of children playing, working and eating and produced touching portraits as well. The pictures were intended to show a functioning community and testify to the utility of Jewish workers for the German economy. Nevertheless, the images reflect the contradictions and complexities of the desperate situation in the ghetto and show the efforts of the inhabitants to maintain their dignity and survive as long as possible.

After the war, of course, the world would learn the full story behind these images and, as Soenke Marahrens pointed out at the reception last week, "A lot of stories come together in this exhibition." Marahrens is the German liaison officer to Deputy Directorate J7 Joint Coalition Warfare, who helped bring the exhibition to Old Dominion.

Quotations from survivor reports and from the chronicle of the ghetto accompany each photograph, he noted. A short overview of the ghetto's history, a description of the photography as a historic source and information about the photographers also provide an introduction into the exhibition.

Marahrens said the exhibition of photographs offers an opportunity for others to learn from a horrific time in the history of his native country. "The pictures are like lenses, lenses back to a time which is not available any longer," said Marahrens, who later invited the approximately 50 attendees to tour the exhibition.

Marahrens closed his remarks by quoting a late Holocaust survivor he met last year: "If you're not doing anything, the evil has already won."

"The Face of the Ghetto" is the result of a collaboration of ODU's Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding, the College of Arts and Letters, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Old Dominion University Libraries, and is part of the Holocaust remembrance activities in and around Hampton Roads.

Maura Hametz, director of the ODU institute and an associate professor of history, also spoke at the reception. "Viewing the exhibit myself brought to mind Hannah Arendt's oft-quoted observations on the 'banality of evil' and what subsequent scholars have identified as the 'normalization of the unthinkable' in the context of the Holocaust," she said. "This is evident in the faces of those in the photos, in the knowledge that Jewish photographers were the unwilling chroniclers, and in the production of the images themselves in the context of Nazi society - in the complexities and layers of meanings that can be found in them today."

Hametz added: "By now, nearly a lifetime after the end of the Second World War, why is it imperative that we remember? Study of the Holocaust, Holocaust remembrance and the visions presented in this exhibition can inspire us to think - to critically examine our society, our assumptions and our prejudices today, to identify and tear out at their roots, the foundations on which the 'banality of evil' rests, to speak out and act against anti-Semitism, prejudice and racism today."

The exhibition is composed and provided by the Topography of Terror Foundation in Berlin and is supported by the Foreign Office, Federal Republic of Germany. It was first shown in the United States at the United Nations in New York City, and is currently on tour. A collection of 12,000 contact prints by the Jewish photographers in the Litzmannstadt Ghetto is preserved in the £ódŸ State Archive.

A Web exhibit is available at http://www.lib.odu.edu/exhibits/faceghetto/index.htm.

This article was posted on: May 17, 2012

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