KNOXVILLE — “Living On,” an exhibit featuring powerful photographs and stories of Tennesseans who were Holocaust survivors and liberators, is now showing in Warsaw.
The exhibit, which was organized by the Tennessee Holocaust Commission and has traveled throughout the state, opened at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw on June 21. It will be there until Aug. 24. Polish officials said the exhibit also may go to the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oswiecim and the Gross–Rosen Museum in Rogoznica.
About a year ago, University of Tennessee Professor Rob Heller, the photographer on the project, asked UT English Professor Marilyn Kallet and Temple Beth-El Rabbi Beth Schwartz, who were traveling to Poland, to take information about the exhibit to Victor Ashe, former Knoxville mayor who is now the U.S. Ambassador to Poland.
Ashe subsequently contacted Heller and said he’d like to bring the exhibit to Warsaw.
Heller said he and officials with the Holocaust Commission worked with Ashe and his staff for the past year to make the Polish visit happen.
People viewing the exhibit in Poland will receive a packet including a letter from Ashe. In that letter, Ashe writes, “Our purpose in bringing this exhibit to Poland is first to complement the many efforts already under way to ensure that awareness of the Holocaust teaches the importance of tolerance. It also shows how deeply this dark part in history continues to touch on all of us in ways that link us, Pole and American alike -– even in just one of the 50 states of the United States of America.”
“Living On” includes the photographs and stories of 73 Tennessee residents who were Holocaust survivors, liberators or U.S. Army witnesses. Heller and journalist Dawn Weiss Smith spent three years finding people, interviewing and photographing them. Tennessee Holocaust Commission Curator Susan Knowles helped with the interviews and did much of the editing. One of Heller’s former students, Will Pedigo of Nashville Public Television, accompanied Heller and Smith as they worked and produced a documentary about the project, “Living On: Tennesseans Remembering the Holocaust.” The Holocaust Commission is now working with UT Press to produce a book about the project.
Only a portion of “Living On” — the photos and stories of 37 people — are on exhibit in Poland, said Izabella Szarek, cultural specialist with the American Embassy in Poland. Those featured are Holocaust survivors who were born in the pre-war boundaries of Poland and several liberators.
Heller said having the “Living On” exhibit travel to Warsaw “is significant because it makes the project come full circle.” He said plans to photograph some of the areas where the Polish survivors lived and were imprisoned while he’s in Poland.
Because it was too expensive to ship the exhibit’s huge photographs to Poland, Heller sent digital files of the portraits. The U.S. Embassy had them printed and framed, and had the stories translated into Polish.
Heller traveled to Poland with several members of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission to attend the Warsaw opening, speak to students at the Academy and visit some important Jewish sites in the area.
People featured in the exhibit also were invited, although none could make the trip.
“We’re sort of carrying the torch for them,” Heller said.
“I always thought I needed to see these places. I’m not necessary looking forward to it, but I need to do it. I expect to be moved and saddened by it,” Heller said. “But photography is my way of paying honor to these survivors, as well those who didn’t survive the Holocaust.”
Heller’s trip to Poland is being funded by UT’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media, the College of Communication and Information, the university’s Office of Research through a SARIF grant, the Knoxville Jewish Alliance and Temple Beth-El.
For more about the “Living On” project, visit http://www.tennesseeholocaustcommission.org/livingon/.
Rob Heller, (865) 974-3463, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ruth K. Tanner, Executive Director, Tennessee Holocaust Commission, (615) 343-2563
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, email@example.com