Author's photobook memorializes the Holocaust

By Sara Blair Matthews

Writer

Ann Weiss, author of personal photograph collection “The Last Album,” drew from her experiences researching the Holocaust to demonstrate the importance of Kristallnacht. Her lecture, “The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau”, occurred Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Trout Auditorium of the Vaughan Literature Building.

On Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, the Nazisdestroyed over 7,000 businesses and burned over 200 synagogues, ultimately killing 91 Jews and deporting over 30,000. Kristallnacht was only one of many horrendous incidents that occurred during the Holocaust.

Weiss began her discussion by talking about her first trip to Auschwitz, a part of a diplomatic mission to Eastern Europe she took approximately 25 years ago. She was chosen based on her investigative journalism work on the Holocaust.

“When I got to Poland, I saw evidence of what once existed: the culture and the absence of people,”Weiss said.

The most horrifying thing Weiss saw was a pile of thousands of shoes that were holed, dirty and broken in places. It upset her that these shoes were all the people had to help them survive the harsh Polish winters. These shoes were the only remnants of the people exterminated during the Holocaust, and it was the first truly tragic thing Weiss encountered on her trip.

While she was staring at this pile of shoes, Weiss recounted becoming separated from her group. She ran around an abandoned Auschwitz frantically because she did not want to be left behind. In the process, a man beckoned her to follow him into a closed off room. There she saw pictures that changed her life and motivated her to become what she is today.

“They were beautiful photos. The pictures that the Jews brought with them before they thought they were going to be worked,” Weiss said.

There was a secret Nazi edict which ruled that all the photos people brought with them to the concentration camps had to be destroyed. Weiss saw only a few of the 2400 photos that were saved by the Jewish Underground.

When Weiss returned home to America, she could not get her mind off the photos. She hatched an idea to make a deal with the German government to give her the photos so she could make a montage and share them with the world. The government refused to give her the photos, but allowed Weiss to restore them and print them in her book.

“Unfortunately, they will never part with these photos,” Weiss said. “They are too precious to them.”
Before showing the film, Weiss told the audience stories she had learned about a few of the people in the photos. One was a story of a man named Ben Hirsch, who identified his baby brother and sister from a photo in the film. He told Weiss his own story and how he was shipped on the last Kindertransport to leave Germany.  His mother stayed behind with his two youngest siblings and continued to write him letters until she died.

She also told the audience a story of a husband and wife holding a baby in their arms. They both volunteered at an orphanage because they loved kids but could not have any of their own.

Her photos represented the positive nature of human love even in the worst of conditions.

“I believe goodness lives far beyond the life of the individual,” Weiss said.

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