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September 2017

Dear Friends,

I receive many interesting letters from readers, but recently, I received a particularly unique one from Aliza, a precocious and sensitive high school student in Atlanta. She was concerned because teenagers did not relate to Holocaust history, and she wanted to find a way to personalize this history in a way that would reach them more directly. Following is the project she created for a school assignment that assigned students to ‘Find a way to help end modern day genocide’ (Editorial note: no small task!).

Following is her project, preceded by an excerpt of Aliza’s first letter:

Thank you so much for publishing the photos left at Auschwitz. I am a sixteen-year- old, attending the Weber School in Atlanta, Georgia, where I live. Today, while flipping through The Last Album, I was able to connect to the intense pain of the Shoah in a way I hadn’t before. So many of the young women look like me and strike silly poses, just as I might. Given how privileged I am, like many of my … contemporaries, it is often hard to relate to the extreme pain that those who lived during the Shoah felt. Your book made it easier to be empathetic and gave me a greater look into my own blessings. This year I am taking a class where I have met over forty Holocaust survivors. I often feel that my classmates dismiss the speakers, not because they are trying to be rude, but because it’s easier not be engaged with these stories and because the stories are so foreign to us. With your permission, I would like to do a photo series in which I remake photos from The Last Album. Hopefully, this can help me and my peers put in perspective the enormity of the loss during the second world war by having an understanding of the humanity of the lives lost.

I gave Aliza my full permission, enthusiastic encouragement, and now share her interesting project with you.

[Pedagogical Note—Students of any ethnicity, race or demographic might try to personalize any photo that particularly ‘speaks to them’ in a way similar to Aliza.] Her mission statement and paired photos follow:

Often times, victims of the holocaust are reduced to the narrative of their eventual death or survival. The Last Album tells the story of life before the war, the story of the victims that portrays them as more than just victims. By creating a more complete story, which closer resembles my life as a privileged, modern Jew, the tragedy of the holocaust is more tangible.

While flipping through The Last Album, I was struck by how similar my personal photos are– both because I have the same interests and because we share some of the same features. I wonder, does Cesia Montag of Bedzin share my desire to be presentable or is she so widely in love that she forgets? In my head I create a narrative for her, she is on a hike for her six-month anniversary and her boyfriend has bought her a necklace. And then I pop back to reality and remember that this photo was found at Auschwitz, where necklaces were confiscated, loved ones separated and beauty irrelevant when there is only space for survival.

I created this photo series to intensify the reality that we are so similar to those who suffered during the Holocaust. My intention was to create empathy and compassion and to push the audience, especially students, to expand their understanding of the Holocaust, which is more complex than one glaring number: six million….

PHOTOS FROM THE LAST ALBUM THAT INSPIRED ALIZA’S POSES:

Aliza Abusch-Magder is a high school Junior in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lives.She invites you to send comments/questions to alizayam@gmail.com

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