Recently in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik questioned the effectiveness of the stark 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero. He found it lacked a personal dimension and concluded that the photocopied missing person posters that appeared immediately after the tragedy were more moving than the final memorial. It is the possibility of interaction, he found, that facilitates effective remembering.
Facing the Past is an exhibition of black-and-white portraits of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who volunteer their time at the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Centre. The exhibition came about as a way to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the centre and thank these people for their contribution. The centre, unlike a memorial, is a dynamic and evolving institution – it’s not a representative architectural form – it’s a living, breathing organisation founded by Holocaust survivors.
Simon Shiff is the 20-year-old photographer (and Broadsheet contributor) commissioned by the centre to make the portraits. With a passion for portraiture, he became involved with the centre while still at high school through a friend who worked there.
“Everyone at the centre works for the same cause,” says Shiff. “That the Holocaust never happens again. There are sadly not many survivors left. They want to educate children for generations to come … and let everyone know so that it never happens again.”
One of the exhibition’s faces belongs to Abraham Goldberg. Goldberg is in his nineties and visits the Holocaust Centre everyday. The last time he saw his mother she asked him to do anything he had to in order to survive. She said he must survive in order to make sure that nothing like the Holocaust would ever happen again.
These survivors have witnessed first hand what most assume is impossible. As the last generation of Holocaust survivors enter their later stages of life, their stories become ever more crucial to pass on.