Attending the opening of the “Abide” exhibit, Holocaust survivors (seated) Eva Hecht, Osi Sladek, Art Moss, Trude Kutner, Cantor Zachary Kutner, and Rosalyn Kirkel. Standing behind them is photographer Wayne Armstrong between survivors Paula Burger and David Zapiler.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is prominently located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Dedicated in 1993, it symbolizes the time it began to be commonplace to talk openly and teach about the Holocaust in our schools. Understanding and accepting the terrible things that happened has been possible because we have heard it recounted by those who experienced this tragedy firsthand and lived to tell about it—the survivors. It is a true, though painful fact that they will disappear from the earth in a few short years, and with them, the firsthand accounts that only they can give about what happened to them, their loved ones, and their communities.
Wayne Armstrong is a photographer and photo editor in the marketing and communications department of the University of Denver. He is called upon to capture events that comprise the pictorial history of the university. One of his assignments is to take pictures at programs of DU’s Holocaust Awareness Institute.
Armstrong said, “I happened to be covering an event at the University of Denver where Holocaust survivors were being recognized, and I noticed that fewer and fewer of them were standing up to be recognized when that time came. At one event, it seemed like the number was 50 percent less than I recalled from an earlier event.” Realizing their numbers were dwindling with time, Armstrong resolved to act “I thought about creating a themed exhibit that would capture as many survivors as possible,” he told us.
That inspiration led to a partnership between DU and the Mizel Museum at 400 S. Kearney Street in Denver, resulting in an exhibit of unique and memorable portraits of Holocaust survivors in the Denver community. It is called, Abide. Withstand. Endure. Live On, and opened April 26 to a full house, with half the survivors whose portraits were displayed in attendance. They sat or stood next to their portraits and plaques with their stories next to them on the wall, talking to visitors of the exhibit as they read the individual histories of the survivors, making it very real. Strangers could be heard thanking the survivors for having the courage to share their stories. Hugs, deep looks and real connections were everywhere.
Cherry Hills Village resident Eva Hecht and Osi Sladek standing in front of their survivor portraits at the Mizel Museum.
The portraits on display convey the emotion Armstrong got from spending time with each of his subjects. “To be able, as a photographer, to photograph people, not just in a pretty way, but in a way that has some historical significance, allowed me to become part of history just by being part of their story, even in just a small way. I saw this as a unique opportunity, having access to these people. I felt a responsibility to use the talents God gave me to capture them in a compelling way. My hope is that people will see these portraits and relate to the fact that these people are still alive and their stories are alive. Maybe if we all shared more of our stories, we would feel a little more compassion for each other. That’s happened to me in meeting the survivors and doing the project and I think it can be real for people visiting the exhibit in the same way.”
Armstrong brought his 90-year-old mother and his sister in from California for this opening. He said it was important to him to share it with his family.
The exhibit at the Mizel Museum can be viewed by appointment. Please call 720-785-7300 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit.
Paula Burger, artist and author of Holocaust memoir, “Paula’s Window,” with her survivor portrait behind her at the “Abide” exhibit.
Photographer and portrait designer Wayne Armstrong explains his project to museum visitors.
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