A traveling portrait exhibition featuring photographs and video interviews of some of the last remaining Swiss holocaust survivors will remain at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Shockoe Bottom until March 27.
Motion-sensored lights illuminate nine of the original 14 portraits of the survivors, accompanied by quotes describing moments, details or experiences that have stuck with each of the survivors pictured. In the center of the room, a monitor plays interviews with the survivors in their native tongues. A single bench accompanies the monitor but the voices echo throughout the room.
“It’s about remembrance,” Angela Rueda, the museum’s assistant curator, said. “Many survivors are passing away and it’s important to record their stories, to present their stories, to remember them. That’s why they developed the exhibition.”
The museum was approached to host the exhibition by the Swiss embassy and was created by the Gamaraal Foundation, a group dedicated to helping survivors with their financial burdens and distress.
Rueda said in 2017 the Swiss embassy took on the chairmanship of the International Remembrance Alliance, a 31-member organization working to educate and promote remembrance of the holocaust. The exhibition was created as part of its chairmanship.
The subjects’ experiences and emotions are reflected through their photos, with tones of hope throughout some of the quotes.
“Our mission is to promote tolerance through education. Something you see with the holocaust is what indifference, prejudice and discrimination can result in,” Rueda said. “One of the things we do is try and focus on individual stories, something that people can connect to.”
Putting a face to these stories is part of the museum’s mission to promote remembrance. The Holocaust’s figures are “staggering to think about,” Rueda said, making the inclusion of personal narratives more important. In addition, the narratives provide context to the study of the Holocaust.
“Certain complexities and variations can be hard to cover so having those individual stories can be important and powerful, seeing the faces of these individuals and putting a face to these stories and to the history,” Rueda said.
The exhibition has traveled from Europe to the United Nations headquarters in New York City. After its stay in Richmond, the exhibition will be displayed at the Hillyer Art Space in Washington D.C.
Alexandra Zernik Contributing Writer