Message from the Director – Spring-Summer 2008
My plan for the next six months is simple: Share more photos, share more narratives with more student/adult groups, ecumenical and otherwise. Mount the photo exhibition and screen the video montage of these personal family photos found at Auschwitz-Birkenau for more cities, so that more minds can be opened. As more and more research is completed, more and more identifications emerge, and more and more stories continue to be unearthed. With each discovery, in a sense, more and more lives are being preserved, shared and remembered. Click here to learn more about these photos.
I recently returned from Florida, where I reconnected with Holocaust survivors, who have shared their memories with me over the course of many years – it is their memories that transformed these photos from anonymous images to cherished photos of friends and family, many of whose stories we now know.
The photos in The Last Album show the images and memories that Jews deported to Auschwitz couldn’t leave behind. They show who and what they cherished most, the very photos they chose for remembering their own lives.
Letters to Share with You
In the last director’s message, I shared an extraordinary letter from Paris.
I receive beautiful letters from people who have read the book,
seen my film or viewed my traveling photo exhibition. I feel so
grateful for all of them, but recently a letter arrived from Paris
that stood out for meâ€”and not only because I had to dig deep
in the recesses of my high school memory to translate it.
Though Monsieur Luc has never met me, he took the time to
tell me what happened when he wandered into a French
bookstore and found my book on a table [Note: in addition
to English versions of The Last Album, there exist also French
and German editions, published by Autrements and Piper Verlag,
respectively). Following is an excerpt of the letter from Paris:
I ought to tell you that I'm not a Jew.
[In the bookstore, they had The Last Album].
I don’t know why, I decided to buy it. When I came to my home,
I submerged myself in the album – in emotions, in tears, in suffering –
the love for all these people.
Well, for them and for me, I would like to thank you.
Due to you, I have the impression yesterday of these
people – their brothers, their sisters, their parents, their
friends – have been alive, have been happy at the time
of my reading.
I am not more than a drop of water in that human
ocean but I want to save the memory of those people
and not forget that one day in 2007, a book provoked
In his letter, and in his words that followed (the complete
letter can be read in the Share your Thoughts section),
Luc is performing one of the most powerful acts possible,
remembering the souls of the dead.
I thank Luc, and all those who have written to me, for the gift of your words, the treasure of your thoughts, and the inspiration they have given me to continue.
I’d also like to share with you a few student and adult letters sent after seeing these photos and hearing these stories.
Selected Adult Comments
on book, film, exhibition, speeches
The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau
“This is a document of human perseverance, a testament to the
horrors–and the wonder–of the human spirit, and a snapshot of
the soul of a people in more innocent times.”
–David Friend, Special Projects, Vanity Fair,
former LIFE Magazine Photo Editor
This album shows all our lives at a time when we were living,
not when we were dying – In these smiling faces, I see all our
families, all our youth groups, our sports clubs and synagogues,
the smiling faces when we were together. These pictures mirror
every town and every city where the Jewish people were living
and thriving before the war. The tragedy is that these fragments
emerged only after most of the people were already dead in the
crematorium. The triumph is that these photos emerged at all!
Thanks to Ann Weiss, the historical value of this book is that you
can now see the Jewish people in their bloom, not only in their
suffering, and for this, other survivors and I will be eternally
Henry Skorr, Holocaust survivor from Kalisz, Poland
“What’s important about this excellent book is that Ann Weiss
shows us the real photos of the real people and you can see
how beautiful the people were, and how beautiful life once was.
I am among the youngest of those who survived, and I believe
that, not the abstract idea, but the concrete reality must be
preserved. In these precious photos, Ann Weiss shows how much
we all have in common, as she displays the full gamut of pre-war
society–men, women, children, religious, not-religious, urban, rural.
It is an important book; it is a beautiful book. Cherish it–It
represents our lives.”
Yaffa Eliach, Founder of the Shtetl Project
Author of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, and
There Once was a Time, and creator of the
Tower of Eisheshek, at the DC Holocaust Museum
Holocaust victims, dead or alive, want to be remembered for their
affirmation of life not just their suffering. In The Last Album,
Ann Weiss brilliantly depicts the vibrant Jewish life and culture
that was annihilated in Europe during the German occupation.
The book is a treasure of photos accompanied by narrative
sure to remain etched in readers’ minds.
Eva Fogelman, Ph.D is the author of the award-winning
Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the
Holocaust and writer and co-producer Breaking the Silence:
Generation After the Holocaust.
â€œSix million death is a statistic, a datum, but the photograph
of a childâ€”that is a knowable tragedy! A group of friendsâ€”that
is a horror! They killed, one by one. These photographs show
me people, one by one. “How was it possible?” I always ask.
Now I see faces and eyes as I ask.
Martin Rosenzweig, Math Professor, Rhode Island
“I used to think that the Jews must have done something.
Why else would they be killed? But when I saw these beautiful
pictures [in the newspaper], I was struck with how they were
just like me! And then, their lives ended for no reason except
they were Jews. I just wanted to cry.”
MaryAnne K., Southern Baptist secretary, North Carolina
“By depicting these Jews of Europe at momentous times in their
lives, it gives a context for their deaths that resonates in ways
that the magnitude of the numbers cannot. This portrays the
victims as they themselves would want to be remembered.”
Josey Borowsky Stamm, Esq., University of the Arts
“Transformed the Holocaust from an unimaginable recitation
of statistics to an intensely personal realization of what and
who were lost, from a focus on death to an affirmation of life.”
Rabbi Henry Cohen, Pennsylvania
“Your film .. invited me to participate. Yes, it was the eyes.
The wall was gone which separated me from Jewish life – for
me, there had been only Jewish death, and no end. We must
not forget, but your film adds a new note of not forgetting.
Remembering lives and individual faces builds a bridge to today.”
Friederich Gronnar, former Hitler Youth, psychiatrist now
devoted to peace work in Germany
Student Comments about the Photos and Stories
There are three major themes that emerge when students write
or comment re: the photos:
1-”I never saw normal pictures of Jews, just the horrible
ones – until now.”
2-”Learn about the Holocaust, so we don’t repeat the history.”
3-”It makes me appreciate my own life.”
Following is a sampling of letters received from Fishers Junior
High School 8th graders, a rural community outside Indianapolis,
and juniors/seniors at North Central High School, the largest
secondary school in urban Indianapolis. The students were mostly
Christian in the rural community, located ironically near White
Supremacist headquarter, and the urban students were both
Black Muslims and Christians – yet the impact of the stories
and the photos was, as you can see, powerfully felt. If limited
time, skip to last comment.
Fishers Junior High School
Mandy, age 14:
“It gave me a new perspective on life.”
Why study the Holocaust? “So nothing that terrible ever
Megan, age 13:
“We are all different, and just because we are a different color
or believe in a different faith doesn’t mean they were not human
and didn’t deserve Freedom.” “The memory that I will take with
me is the faces.”
Julia, age 14:
“[These pictures and stories] don’t let us take life for granted”
Sara, age 13:
“I loved seeing all the smiles when all I thought of was frowns.”
Danny, age 14:
“It helps to see what these people were like before they were
taken to camps. It was an important part of our history and it
should never happen again.”
Tiffanie, age 13:
“[Seeing the photos] gets you more of an idea that these people
looked like us, but just because they were of a different ethnicity,
they were chosen [to die].”
Jennifer, age 13:
“When seeing the photos, they just looked like normal people,
[showing] that we are all equal. Everyone is equal.
[We must learn about the Holocaust] so history does not repeat
itself and how we should treat people, all people, equally.”
Ali, age 14:
“It showed me the eyes of the innocent people who became
victims of the Nazis. It made me understand how lucky I am
and how thankful I should be. Seeing the innocent people’s
eyes got me the most. As I stared at them, I thought to
myself, these are people like me.I think we should get into
groups and talk”.
Lenn, age 14:
“People only see the pictures of awful things that happened.
They can’t realize these Jewish people were normal, just
like us. I will always remember to never judge anyone.
This is so important, no one should be judged by their religion.”
Dan, age 13:
“The only photos that I have ever seen were of the brutality.
The photos help to show that these people were normal like
anyone else. The people in the photos were smiling.”
I told a story about a courageous young
man, named Emanuel, who escaped from the Warsaw
Ghetto and helped to save my mother. Many students
commented on his story. Josh says it best.
Josh, age 14:
“The man Emanuel stood out. Someone that courageous is
only found in movies. But he was one in real life.
Emanuel will stick with me because that is who I would like
to be like.”
Alex, age 14:
“I’ve never heard of anyone braver than the Emanuel story.”
Ashley, age 13:
“These photos [and stories] taught me things about life.
I found myself listening intently like, – What will happen next?
All of the stories were very interesting. Life cannot be spent
unwisely.You will find out the importance of forgiveness
and living your life to the fullest.”
North Central High School
Michael, age 16:
“[The pictures] were happy, joyful, showed the life of people
before they were brutalized. They were very moving stories.
Unlike other Holocaust stories, these ones had some joy in
them, in addition to sorrow. I certainly [now] understand
more of the human perspective. You cannot forget.”
Emily, age 16:
“They are not the same type of photos commonly found in
textbooks. These were much more personalâ€¦. The photos
and the stories made the events of the Holocaust all the
more real to me, rather than distant events of another time.
It’s important that we realize the scale of the effects
and learn about those affected.”
Steve, age 17:
“It emphasized the humanity that was destroyed in the Holocaust.
It showed how not just a mass of bodies was destroyed, but a
mass of human life, of real humanity. They [photos and stories of life]
made the horrific Holocaust more personal and therefore more
tragicâ€¦.It’s important to remember the past to prevent it and
understand how tragedies develop”
Lisa, age 16:
“It made the impact – much more real when I saw the pictures
of people whose lives were taken. The stories were amazing.
They helped me relate to the victims – and also bring forth
Mimi, age 16:
“Stories of people’s lives help you relate to them, to see another
perspective and care for someone you’ve never known. Stories
are an essential part of humanity, as is sharing them.” “If you
do not study the mistakes of the past, they will only be repeated.”
Charles, age 16:
“It showed the faces of innocents and showed that Jewish people
were “regular” normal people like everyone else, living their lives.
[I learned that] people fought with their spirits. It is very inspirational.”
Sarah, age 17:
“It was very interesting to hear/see a presentation on the Holocaust
from a different, more positive perspective. It inspired me to do
more research from this point of view. The value of an unending
human spirit is important, and I’m glad I could see the pictures
to remember this idea.”
“The eyes motif is very interesting: they serve as windows into
the hearts and lives of these people – [and] truly are symbolic of
the sustained human spirit. It is essential to remember that these
people were not just nameless Jews; they had lives – they
cherished throughout. I would love to hear more stories.”
The most touching responses discussed the preciousness
of life, more fully appreciated after students saw these
photos. Many echoed the views of Mandy Tippmann,
a 14 year old, for whom the Holocaust was made personal
by these images:
“I now think of the Holocaust as – individuals.
It [the photos, stories, presentation] opened a place in my heart
that has never been touched before.”
My Gift to You
In this director’s message, and in each successive one, I will introduce new photos and new stories for you. Today, the Malach Family will be featured.
The Malach Family lived at Modrzejoska 56 in Bendin, Poland (in Polish, the town is called Bedzin), and was known, among other things, for their kosher sausage factory. Here are several photos of the Malach Family.
This photo features the family when their eldest son, Itzhak, is seated center at the table with his smiling wife, Sara Ruda, shortly after their marriage. In virtually every photo in which Sara is present, her riveting smile commands the viewer’s attraction. In this photo, the Malach Family is seated around the table. Next to Sara Ruda her in-laws are seated, Malka Ruchel Blum Malach and Rafael Herschel Malach, Itzhak’s parents. Flanked around them are (rear, left to right) Itzhak’s younger siblings: Sima, Velvel with violin, Ester and Abraham. In front is Zisia Lea Blum with a young child (name unknown) on her lap.
These workers at the Kosher Sausage Factory are making sausage using the same technique that has been used for centuries, and (except for the kosher part) is still employed today in Poland.
I was contacted by Zishe’s daughter, Sima, who was named after her murdered aunt, who added, “My father, Zishe, is second from right. He is not stirring the barrel. The two on the left are his uncles, my grandfather’s brothers, Moshe and Itzhak. The first man on the right is my uncle Yehiel. I am not sure who is stirring, but maybe it’s Velvel.”
Here is Sara at the Polish resort town of Szczawinca in 1935. The inscription at the bottom, I. Malach, indicates the photo was taken by a member of the Malach family, most likely her husband (or possibly, fiance, at the time), Itzhak Malach.
Sara Ruda Malach was working at the clinic of Dr. Taranszewski, the doctor who would later deliver her baby. The clinic was one of the most respected ones in Bendin, Poland.
Nurse Esther Kalikov, whose family owned a pharmacy in Bendin, presents baby Abraham to his mother, Sara Ruda Malach.
Dr. Taranszewski, one of Poland’s leading Jewish obstetricians, worked together with Sara Ruda Malach, so it was expected that he would deliver her first (and only) baby when the time came.
However, this photo, when explicated, makes a poignant statement of love and yearning.
As Izzy Hollander, who lived at the Bendin Orphanage since he was seven, remembers how the Taranszewski’s would come to the orphanage almost every day to help with the children. Dr. Taranszewski would come when he was not delivering babies, and his wife would come every single day, to help the orphans. “She talked to us, she helped with our studies, she took our temperature to make sure we were healthy, and she made us a feeling of home.”
“I remember when I went to their house for the Sabbath. The building had the first elevator in Bendin, and she made the best chocolate cake I ever ate!“
This photo shows Dr. and Mrs. Taranszewski holding little Abraham, the baby of Sara and Itzhak Malach. Mrs. Taranszewski would sometimes come to the hospital just to hold the babies her husband had just delivered.
The tragedy of Dr. and Mrs. Taranszewski was that, although Dr. Taranszewski delivered babies for so many other families, this couple – despite years of trying – could not have a baby of their own. However, with the love they lavished on the orphans at the Bendin Orphanage, they created a different kind of family for children who missed having a family of their own.
For inquiries about bringing these and other photos to your community, please contact Ann Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bar Mitzvah Mitzvah
There are a number of ways that a Bar/Bat Mitzvah can be made even more meaningful by making a linkage with these photographsâ€”particularly the photos of children. Recently, David Kimmel, age 13, offered to help Eyes from the Ashes Educational Foundation, this 501(c)3 non-profit foundation, as his Bar Mitzvah – Mitzvah’ Project. He and I worked together, found just the way he could help most, and toward that end, David donated both actions and a portion of his mitzvah money to help the work of the foundation.
Isaac and his wife, Rebekah, had two sons, Esau and Jacob.
Before they were born, they had struggled in Rebekah’s womb
and were born with Jacob grabbing at the heal of Esau. As they
grew up, Isaac far preferred his eldest son, Esau, because he
brought Isaac fresh meat from every successful hunt.
Rebekah most loved Jacob, who was milder and stayed close
One day Esau came home from a poor day’s hunt.
He was famished, and as he entered the tent, he smelled the
fragrant stew that Jacob was making. He pleaded with Jacob
to share, and Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as first born,
and I shall give you some.” Reasoning that his birthright would
mean nothing to him if he perished from starvation, Esau accepted
this bargain and exchanged his birthright for a bowl of soup.
Isaac dwelled in Abraham’s lands and re-dug his father’s wells
that had been buried by the Philistines. The people of the land
quarreled with him over the first and second of these wells, but
not the third well. So Isaac kept the third well giving it the same
name as Abraham had and sent his servants to dig a new fourth
well which flowed with fresh new water.
As Isaac became old, his eyes grew weak, and he said
to Esau, “I soon will die, so bring me meat and I shall give you
my innermost blessing.” Rebekah overheard this and said secretly
to Jacob, “Go to the flock and fetch two goats, and I will make
the dish your father likes. Then cover yourself with a goatskin
so Isaac will think you are big and hairy like Esau. Approach your
father dressed in Esau’s clothes and give him the meat so that
you receive the blessing from your father first.”
Jacob did as his mother said and deceived his father
into thinking he was Esau. Isaac gave Jacob his finest blessing
to be prosperous and to be master of his brothers and other nations.
No sooner had Jacob left than the real Esau entered and said,
“Bless me now, Father.” But Isaac trembled violently and cried that
he could not give an equal blessing. Esau wailed and wept, “Have
you but one blessing, Father? Haven’t you reserved a blessing?
Bless me too, Father!” And so Isaac gave him an inferior blessing,
and Esau loathed his brother more than ever before.
Rebekah advised Jacob to flee the land and go stay with
her brother until Esau’s anger would subside.
Some people might see this as the story of two brothers who were
enemies since birth. But there is a deeper meaning beyond sibling
rivalry. This Parasha is called “Tol Dot which means “Generations.”
In the story there are connections to the past, present, and future
in this long family line. You can not look at the fighting of Esau and
Jacob without examining what they learned from Isaac and Rebekah
and wondering what exactly Isaac wanted to pass along to his sons.
It seems that in passing along blessings for health and happiness, he
also gave them reason to be angry and distrustful of each other.
In fact, throughout the Torah, we see numerous generations
of parents picking favorites among their children and creating
bitterness and rivalry. Abraham banished his first son Ishmael
in favor of Isaac. And, Isaac favored Esau over Jacob. Why
couldn’t Isaac have loved them equally? Even Esau questions
why his father’s love is so limited. The Torah doesn’t explain why
these preferences are created. Perhaps Rebekah would not have
felt the need to stick up for Jacob if Isaac had treated them equally.
As a father himself, Jacob favored Joseph over his other twelve
brothers. And so, each generation carried forward this selective
favoritism until Joseph who intentionally broke the cycle by blessing
his children, Ephraim and Manasseh equally, and it is said that
his boys never fought. Today, when children are blessed on Shabbat,
we say to the boys may you be like Ephraim and Manasseh.
At the same time, Isaac did some things right. He prospered
when he followed Abraham’s example and listened to God and
followed by God’s laws. During the years that Isaac prospered
he went back to the wells of his father. He could use one of the
wells but even after he unclogged the others, the people fought
with him over ownership. When he dug his own well he found
that it flowed with fresh clean water and no one argued with him
over it. The new well represents new ideas. When he followed
the exact same path as his father he found it “clogged” with old
ideas. But when he followed his own path he found a fresh new
It may be easy to say, “I will not make the same mistakes as
my parents. I will follow what I know to be right.” But it’s a lot
harder to do. Because if you decide to learn from the past, you
have to know what really happened. And without a good role
model, you have to go into unexplored territory, to create new
ideas and teachings. And there’s another risk. What if you’re
wrong? What if the new ideas are simply a greater mistake?
The lessons from generations before you are only as useful as
what you do with them.
This parasha is a particularly good example of how the Torah
does not try to make people always look noble. It shows both
the best and worst in this family. You have to know that even
the people we admire were not always perfect. In fact, the best
way to honor the memory of previous generations is not to sugarcoat
history but to take an honest look at who people were and what the
consequences of their choices were. You don’t want to turn your back
on the past, but you don’t want to try to erase the parts that are
unpleasant or make people look bad just because it’s easier or makes
a nicer story. You’re more likely to repeat a mistake if you don’t
know what really happened. The Torah is definitely harsh in its
presentation of people. But the blessing for us, is that by studying
these stories in all their honesty, you can try to make wiser choices
going forward. Isaac was literally and figuratively short-sighted,
and we can see the consequences of his stingy love. He almost
drove his sons to fratricide. And love wasn’t and isn’t even a
limited resource like water which Isaac was better at tapping into.
WHERE DO I FIND MYSELF IN THIS STORY?
I am the oldest out of the three boys in my family. As the Elder
brother I must set a good example for my younger siblings. For
example: If I share with my brothers they will share back. If I
yell at my brothers they will yell back. Just like in the story,
good (or bad) behavior is passed through generations because
of role models in the families. Isaac could have blessed both his
sons equally, but he decided that Essau was more important than
Jacob. Isaac might have picked up this idea from one of the role
models in his life, Abraham. If Abraham loved Ishmael and Isaac
equally then maybe Isaac would have picked up the trait and loved
his sons equally and Jacob would have loved his sons equally. But
unfortunately, no one set a good role model in this topic and that
caused a lot of conflicts. Each new generation makes a choice.
They may choose not to follow their ancestors, and this may be a
bad thing, or maybe a good thing. So following the example of
this story I am obliged to set a good example for the younger people
in my family and show them the right path to choose.
My Mitzvah project has been to store and preserve
photographs rescued from destruction from the Auschwitz
Ann Weiss, a member of Beth Am, was the person
who found and rescued these photographs.
I want to thank her for giving me the honor of
trusting me with their safekeeping. I’m also donating a
portion of my bar mitzvah money to Ann Weiss’
“Eyes from the Ashes” Foundation. I’ve also learned
how to play cello music composed in the
Terezin Concentration Camp which I played last
night at a recital.
The Holocaust is an ugly chapter in human history,
but the pictures show the people when they were
happy and celebrating. The things they would want
us to remember. We don’t see them as victims in
these photographs, but as full living people. The
Holocaust is one example of a past that maybe people
want to pretend didn’t happen but if we can learn
something from it, and preserve the best of people,
then we have a better chance of preventing more
“ugly chapters” in human history for future generations.
This mitzvah project has been especially meaningful since
yesterday was the 69th anniversary of Crystal night
(Kristallnacht). On November 9, 1938, German soldiers
raided Jewish communities destroying thousands of
shops and synagogs and killing ninety-one people. The
broken glass from shop windows made the ground a terrible
glittering array of crystal shards. Crystal night was a wake
up call to many Jews in Europe that their world was
shattering and worse was to come.
This project is a way to preserve the memories of
past generations and remember both their suffering
and hopes for a better future. We are their future.
Iâ€™m going to try to learn from this how to make
decisions in my life, to let the past guide my decisions
but not actually make the decisions for me.
To discuss personalized Bar/Bat Mitzvah ideas or to share your thoughts, questions and ideas, please contact Ann Weiss at email@example.com