Portraits of Life and Loss: The Holocaust and Beyond

Portraits of Life and Loss: The Holocaust and Beyond

Photographs by: Jeffrey Gusky, MD, Mt. Vernon, Texas

Portraits of Life and Loss pairs the work of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky, two photographers who wandered the same areas some six decades apart.  Vishniac explored Poland’s Jewish villages of the 1930s and 1940s, documenting communities in peril during an era of growing anti-Semitism.  Gusky’s late-20th-century visits to the same country took him to the sites where those communities once stood.

While Vishniac captured the spirit of a people, their crowded, vibrant communities, pulsing with life, Gusky’s visual journey examines the ghosts they left behind.  Returning to the quiet landscapes that once nourished Jewish life, Gusky found crumbling synagogues, ghetto walls, and silent streets that once hosted bustling markets, and his photographs resound hauntingly, with an almost specter-like aura.

Photographs by Roman Vishniac: A Vanished World

Gorecki Symphony No. 3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”

Slide Show: Portraits of Life and Loss/The Holocaust and Beyond

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The Train to Toyland: The Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Treblinka and Auschwitz

The Train to Toyland: The Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Treblinka and Auschwitz

Terror lurks beneath white lies about sparkling diamonds in the sky,
Useless illusions in the face of Crystal Night’s shards of broken glass,
Tears to remember the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Treblinka, Auschwitz,
And Janusz Korczak, a symbol of compassionate morality for our times
.”

The Train to Toyland: A Heartbreaking Tale of the Holocaust

Toyland (Spielzeugland) is the 2009 Academy Awards Winner for the Best Live Action Short Film. Set in 1942 Germany, this absorbing 14-minute short film reflects back to harrowing memories about a prelude to the Holocaust, in particular the 1938 Nazi Kristallnacht (The Night of Shattered Crystal) in Germany. Toyland tells the powerful story of a German mother in those early days of WWII whose son is best friends with a Jewish boy living next door, both of whom are given piano lessons by the friend’s father. When the mother learns that the neighboring Jewish family is scheduled to be picked up and taken away by the Nazi’s on the very next day, she attempts to placate her own son’s curiosity about their surprise trip by telling him that his friend is merely making a vacation visit to “Toyland” in Switzerland.

What begins as the mother’s seemingly innocent attempt to protect her son from an awareness of the Nazi’s disturbingly evil barbarian brutalities unexpectedly leads him to become obsessed with going to “Toyland” along with the Jewish family and his best friend. The film’s story unfolds in a rare time-sequence series of flashback and flashforward rotations. Simultaneously, embedded in this curiously non-linear progression of events are multiple juxtapositioned experiential perspectives of both the mother and her son. It is a truly unusual dialectical cinematographic rendering of interactive human memory, which reaches its startling conclusion in an incredibly subtle twist of bittersweet fate.

Unpacking the emotional complexities of Toyland unveiled recollections about the uncommonly courageous acts of Janusz Korczak, which are seldom mentioned today. However, this important short film impresses us with an irresistible message about the importance of “remembering to remember” the life of Janusz Korczak. On August 6nd, 1942, reflecting his lifelong compassionate devotion to both children and the rights of children, Korczak adamantly refused offers for his own safety and with defiant dignity he led the orphans under his care in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto to the trains that ultimately would take them all to death at the Treblinka Death Camp.

The Train to Toyland: The Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Treblinka and Auschwitz

Children in the Streets of Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto

Janusz Korczak with Children and Staff Members at the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Orphanage

Janusz Korczak with Children at the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Orphanage

Janusz Korczak: A Symbol of Compassionate Morality for Our Times

Janusz Korczak: An Important Tale for Our Times

A few years after graduating from medical school, in 1912 Janusz Korczak became the director of the Jewish orphanage of Warsaw, providing empathic, clinically insightful care for children from the slums. From then until his death, he worked at the orphanage. Shortly after the beginning of the Nazis occupation of Warsaw, an order was made by the Germans demanding that all Jewish persons had to live in a small area of Warsaw that came to be known as the infamous “Warsaw Ghetto”, where they would be destined to perish.

The orphanage that Korczak directed was also ordered to relocate to the ghetto, and he continued his work at the orphanage there. On August 6th, 1942, the Nazis issued an order that the two hundred children living in Korczak’s Jewish orphanage were to be taken to a train station and packed into railroad cars. Korczak, like other Jews in the ghetto, knew that the train’s destination was the Treblinka Death Camp, where all of the children would be murdered in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

On the designated day for their arrival at the train station, Korczak appointed the oldest boy in the orphanage to lead the group, carrying a flag of hope, a four-leaf clover on a field of green, the emblem of the orphanage. Korczak walked immediately behind this leader, gently holding the hands of the two youngest children. Behind them, in perfect order, marched all the other children of the orphanage. The impression of the children’s self-confidence struck the policemen, who previously had been whipping and cursing the Jews into the railroad cars, so much that they immediately snapped to attention and officially saluted them. One of the guards was so deeply moved by this unexpected, wondrous sight that he told Korczak to leave, adamantly stating that only the children had been ordered to board the train. As he tried to push Korczak away from the children, Korczak refused to separate himself from the children and went with them to the Treblinka concentration camp, where they all would die.

Korczak’s freely chosen death would signify the utter righteousness of his life. After World War II, Janusz Korczak became a legend in Poland, Europe and other countries outside of Europe. He was posthumously awarded the German Peace Price and honored on the hundredth anniversary of his birthday by UNESCO officially declaring that year to be Korczak Year, as well as by Poland and many other countries. Pope Paul II stated that in our modern world, Janusz Korczak was a symbol of true religion and morality.

He should be memorialized today, serving to provide a true example for those who continue to work with young persons, as one who devoted his own life’s work as the most devoted friend of children.

Slide Show: The Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, the Train to Treblinka and the Death Camp

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The Nazi Holocaust: A Tribute to Janusz Korczak

Auschwitz: “Good Work Will Make Men Free”

Although this picture displays the deceitful welcoming message above the entry to the Auschwitz death camp, this brief note is written as a memorial for Janusz Korczak, a Polish Jew.

A few years after graduating from medical school, in 1912 Korczak became the director of the Jewish orphanage of Warsaw, providing empathic, clinically insightful care for children from the slums. From then on until his death, he worked at the orphanage.

Shortly after the beginning of the Nazis occupation of Warsaw, an order was made by the Germans demanding that all Jewish persons had to live in a small area of Warsaw that came to be known as the infamous “Warsaw Ghetto”, where they would be destined to perish. The orphanage that Korczak directed was also ordered to relocate to the ghetto, and he continued his work at the orphanage there.

On August 6, 1942, the Nazis issued an order that the two hundred children living in the Jewish orphanage of the Warsaw Ghetto were to be taken to a train station and packed into railroad cars. Korczak, like other Jews in the ghetto, knew that the train’s destination was the Treblinka death camp, where all of the children would be murdered in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

On the designated day for their arrival at the train station, Korczak appointed the oldest boy in the orphanage to lead the group, carrying a flag of hope, a four-leaf clover on a field of green–the emblem of the orphanage. Korczak walked immediately behind this leader, gently holding the hands of the two youngest children. Behind them, in excellent order, marched all the other children of the orphanage. The impression of the children’s self-confidence struck the policemen, who previously had been whipping and cursing the Jews into the railroad cars, so much that they immediately snapped to attention and officially saluted them. One of the guards was so deeply moved by this unexpected event that he told Korczak to leave–adamantly stating that only the children had been ordered to board the train. As he tried to move Korczak away from the children, Korczak refused to separate himself from the children and went with them to Treblinka, where they all would die.

Korczak’s freely chosen death would signify the utter righteousness of his life. After World War II, Janusz Korczak became a legend in Poland, Europe and other countries outside of Europe. He was posthumously awarded the German Peace Price and honored on the hundredth anniversary of his birthday by UNESCO officially declaring that year to be Korczak Year, as well as by Poland and many other countries. Pope Paul II stated that in our modern world, Janusz Korczak was a symbol of true religion and morality.

He should be memorialized today, serving to provide a true example for those who continue to work with young persons, as one who devoted his own life’s work as the most devoted friend of children.

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