Bringing Holocaust Remembrance to the Public Square

By Saturday, April 14, 2018

Lest We Forget is a remembrance project initiated by German-Italian photographer and filmmaker Luigi Toscano. Luigi has been making sociopolitical statements through distinctive art for several years, and on my run this morning, I spotted his exhibition along the reflective pool on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

It displays a striking series of 200 portraits that Luigi has taken of Holocaust survivors living in the United States, Germany, Ukraine, Russia and Israel. Unlike my usual Saturday morning runs near the Lincoln Memorial, this time I had to pause and take a moment to walk along slowly so that I could reflect on each one of these sobering images.

                                   Halina Yasharoff Peabody

As I passed these large-scale photos of hundreds of Holocaust survivors, I was captivated. I began contemplating each survivor who is featured and also reflected on the fates of the many whose stories didn’t make the exhibit or who we don’t have the same opportunity to learn about.

On the side of the portraits, there are information panels so that passers by can read more about each survivor, including: where they were born, where they were deported and, for some, how they were reunited with their loved ones. As I walked along, I ‘met’ Halina Yasharoff Peabody, born in Krakow, Poland in 1932.

Halina’s father was deported to Siberia so Halina, her mother and sister hid–always fearful of being discovered. After suffering permanent injuries from a bomb that fell on the house in which they were hiding, Halina’s family reunited in England and eventually moved to the United States in 1968.

I also encountered Martin Weiss, born in Czech Republic in 1929. He was sent to Auschwitz and then to the Mauthausen concentration camp where he was subjected to forced labor until liberation.

And then there was David Neumann, who was born in Germany in 1929. David’s grandparents, aunt and uncle were murdered in 1942. The survivors of the Holocaust are witnesses to one of the greatest evils in human history. Through these photographs, they quietly convey something of their personal experiences.

Luigi spent a year travelling around the world to meet with Holocaust survivors, giving them a new opportunity to share their stories with younger generations. He partnered with the German Embassy and cooperated with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to have the large-scale portraits displayed in public places and not confined to museums or galleries. By exhibiting them in public places, such as parks, public squares or, in this case, along the National Mall, Lest We Forget reaches a broader audience – regardless of age, nationality, or education.

Lest We Forget is also an important testament to all survivors of the Holocaust. Each person’s experience was unique yet also must, to some degree, represent those whose voices can no longer be heard and whose lives cannot similarly be commemorated. The goal of the project is to raise awareness about hatred and bigotry in society; for it is only when we confront our past that we can ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

I had the opportunity to meet Luigi and thank him for his work. A very charismatic European, he told me that he hopes his work will inspire a greater dedication to protecting human rights as well as serve to advance mutual respect between human beings.

The exhibition will be in D.C. until April 22nd.

Gabriela Anciola

Gaby Anciola is an alumna of the 2017 Philos Leadership Institute. She is currently an M.A. Candidate in International Affairs at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.