Today, January 27, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the libration of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. January 27, every year, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the 6 million Jews and 11 million others who died during the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. For Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020, The Duchess of Cambridge took two portraits of Holocaust survivors, Steven Frank BEM and Yvonne Bernstein, as part of a new exhibition which will open later this year.
This exhibition, in partnership between the Holocaust Memorial Trust, Jewish News, and the Royal Photographic Society, will consist of 75 images of survivors and the younger generations of their family members. The project aims to honor the victims of the Holocaust and to celebrate the full lives that survivors have built in the UK, and inspire people across the UK to consider their own responsibility to remember and share the stories of those who endured persecution at the hands of the Nazis.
Four portraits were released today to mark the anniversary: two by the Duchess of Cambridge, one by RPS Honorary Fellow Jillian Edelstein, and one by RPS member Frederic Aranda. Kate is Patron of the Royal Photographic Society.
The four survivors pictured are:
First photograph, above, taken by Kate: Steven Frank BEM, 84, originally from Amsterdam, who survived multiple concentration camps as a child; pictured with his granddaughters, Maggie Fleet, 15, and Trixie Fleet, 13.
Second photograph, above, taken by Kate: Yvonne Bernstein, originally from Germany, who was a hidden child in France throughout most of the Holocaust; pictured with her granddaughter, Chloe Wright, 11.
Third photograph, below, taken by Aranda: Joan Salter MBE, 79, who fled the Nazis as a young child; pictured with her husband, Martin, and their daughter Shelley.
Fourth photograph, below, taken by Edelstein: John Hajdu MBE, 82, who survived the Budapest Ghetto; pictured with his grandson Zac, 4.
Kate released a statement on the portraits she took as well as the project as a whole, saying:
The harrowing atrocities of the Holocaust, which were caused by the most unthinkable evil, will forever lay heavy in our hearts. Yet it is so often through the most unimaginable adversity that the most remarkable people flourish.
Despite unbelievable trauma at the start of their lives, Yvonne Bernstein and Steven Frank are two of the most life-affirming people that I have had the privilege to meet. They look back on their experiences with sadness but also with gratitude that they were some of the lucky few to make it through. Their stories will stay with me forever. Whilst I have been lucky enough to meet two of the now very few survivors, I recognise not everyone in the future will be able to hear these stories first hand. It is vital that their memories are preserved and passed on to future generations, so that what they went through will never be forgotten.
One of the most moving accounts I read as a young girl was ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ which tells a very personal reflection of life under Nazi occupation from a child’s perspective. Her sensitive and intimate interpretation of the horrors of the time was one of the underlying inspirations behind the images.
I wanted to make the portraits deeply personal to Yvonne and Steven – a celebration of family and the life that they have built since they both arrived in Britain in the 1940s. The families brought items of personal significance with them which are included in the photographs.
It was a true honour to have been asked to participate in this project and I hope in some way Yvonne and Steven’s memories will be kept alive as they pass the baton to the next generation.Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
Kate’s portraits were taken earlier this month at Kensington Palace and inspired by the work of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, as both Steven and Yvonne have links to the Netherlands.
Justin Cohen, who came up with this project, has written about how this project came to be, and provided some background on Kate’s involvement. I encourage you to read the full piece (linked below), but I will only be quoting the parts related to Kate to save space here.
Having approached the Palace six months ago with the seeds of an idea for a photography project involving the Duchess to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, I was delighted (not to mention surprised given the weight of requests the Royals receive) to receive a call asking for more details. Further calls followed and it wasn’t long before Palace aides suggested bringing in the Royal Photographic Society, where she is a patron, to help make my vision of 75 images a reality, and involving the families of survivors to highlight their fortitude in building full lives after the horrors.
But I didn’t dare believe this project would happen until I learnt how much time and thought the Duchess was personally putting into it. The fine art graduate spent several days researching what she could bring to the table in order to best capture these individuals for the future. She was at pains to ensure the survivors were comfortable with the vision and that the spotlight was on the heroes to be pictured and not the Duchess herself. The idea of an exhibition bringing together all 75 images – most of which will be taken over the coming months by fellows of the RPS – followed.
Last month, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust came on board to support the initiative and spoke in strict confidence to survivors to be photographed both by The Duchess and by RPS. We are also honoured to reveal the first cohort of these images today. Before meeting Steven Frank and Yvonne Bernstein, The Duchess spent significant time preparing for the photography session, and once they had arrived she spent nearly two and a half hours with them, getting to know them and their stories, and taking their photographs. Why give you all this background? It’s crucial because it shows that our Royal Family are determined to follow up oft-repeated words of remembrance with practical steps as, day by day, we bid farewell to more survivors. It shows they are personally ready to take on the message of the survivor generation to challenge all forms of hatred wherever it rears its ugly head.Jewish News
My personal opinion on Kate’s photographs (because my opinion is super important right now *eyeroll*): I think these photos are gorgeous and I think this is an excellent way for Kate to use her photography skills. The photos of her kids are nice, but using her photography skills for a project this significant is a big win for Kate, and I think it’s great.